A question on Character Wealth and Equipment

I had a go at answering a new player question on Starting Character Wealth and Equipment in Ars Magica games on Rpg.StackExchange.

In Ars Magica, 5th edition, there seems to be no indication at all of the equipment and resources a character can have. There is just a note reading that any equipment is OK if you can justify it.

How many initial vis can be that in 5th edition? Books? Also how many swords or arcs for a companion or grog?

The short version is to write down the gear and possessions which seem thematic and reasonable for the character’s story and haggle for specific or tricky things; that said there is a huge difference between magical and non-magical related gear and resources as all magical resources are controlled by Virtues and Flaws.

If you’re interested have a read at  https://rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/109762/initial-resources-for-a-character

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Vanilla Covenants Project – Asteria of Verditius

Asteria of Verditius – a sample Magus for the Vanilla Covenants Project

Asteria specializes in creating magical items out of bronze. Originally trained in Italy, she eventually moved to Cornwall. This is where the finest tin in the world is mined, and it allows her to create the finest bronze. Like most Verditius, she is incapable of enjoying the company of other members of her House, which also made the move to Stonehenge attractive. She drinks too much, and is very protective of her reputation, but beyond these minor foibles, she’s willing to discuss her work with the younger magi.

Asteria of Verditius, at Gauntlet

Characteristics: Int +3, Per 0, Pre 0, Com 0, Str -2, Sta +1, Dex +3, Qik 0
Size: 0, Age: 25 (25), Height: 168 cm, Weight: 72 kg, Gender: Female
Decrepitude: 0, Warping Score: 0 (0), Confidence: 1 (3)

Virtues and Flaws:

Affinity with Metalsmith (no calc), Affinity with Terram (no calc), Deft Form (Terram) [Form: Terram], The Gift, Hermetic Magus, Improved Characteristics, Inventive Genius (Invent Lab Totals: +3), Minor Magical Focus (Bronze), Personal Vis Source (Terram) [Location], Puissant Magic Theory, Puissant Metalsmith, Puissant Terram, Verditius Magic* [Preparation Abilities: Philosophiae/*Craft], Blatant Gift (Interactions: -6 with normals), Deficient Form (Imaginem), Deleterious Circumstances (Against wind), Hatred (Non productive artistic types), Mentor (Verdi upper heirachy), Weakness (Drinking)

*note: the no calc means that the affinity has not been factored into the final skill/art level.

Personality Traits: Disciplined +3, Perfectionist +3, Spontaneous -2

Abilities:

Artes Liberales 1 (geometry), Athletics 2 (Climbing), Awareness 3 (flaws in stone and metal work), Finesse 1, Italian 5 (talking about metal and stone), Latin 4 (Hermetic terms), Magic Lore 1, Magic Theory 3+2 (Terram), Metalsmith 4+2 (Bronze) [Category: Laboratories], Parma Magica 1 (Terram), Philosophiae 2 (Verdi Runes), Scribe 1, Stonemason 3 (Statues and Busts) [Category: Buildings]

Arts: Cr 5, In 2, Mu 5, Pe 3, Re 6, An 0, Aq 0, Au 0, Co 0, He 0, Ig 0, Im 0, Me 0, Te 10+3, Vi 0

Spells:

  • Bindings of Bronze from Robes of Silk (MuAn(Te) 15) +6.
  • Measurement of Metal (InTe 10) +16
  • The Bronze Dart (Mu(Re)Te 15) +24
  • A Window of Singular Direction (MuTe 15) +19
  • Hardness of Adamantine (MuTe 25) +19
  • The Spell of Worked Bronze (ReTe 5) +26.
  • Forge of Purest Bronze (ReTe 15) +26
  • Ominous Levitation of the Weighty Bar (ReTe 20) +20

Custom spells known:

Bindings of Bronze from Robes of Silk

Muto Animal 15, R: Voice, D: Diameter, T: Individual

This spell turns an item of Animal based clothing or equipment worn by the target into bronze (typically a shirt, robe, etc), thereby hampering movement, affecting function, and increasing load. Exact effects will vary according to the articles worn by the target, ranging from no effect to practically complete immobilization.

(Base 4 to change a animal product to metal, +2 Voice, +1 Diameter, +0 Terram)

The Bronze Dart

Muto Terram / Rego 15, R: Voice, D: Momentary, T: Individual

A 10-inch bronze dart rises from the ground at your feet, floats into the air, and speeds off like an arrow at a target that is within Voice range. It does +10 damage, and always hits its target, although it must penetrate Magic Resistance to have any real effect.

(Base 3, +2 Voice, +1 affect metal, +1 Rego requisite)

Measurement of Metal

Intellego Terram 10, R: Touch. D: Momentary, T: Individual

This spell informs the caster of the purity and quality of an amount of metal.

(Base 5, +1 Touch)

The Spell of Worked Bronze

Rego Terram 25, R: Touch, D: Momentary, T: Group

The magus may transform a piece of bronze into a finished form, as if a Bronzeworker had shaped and formed it. Up to ten cubic feet may be transformed.

The magus must pass a Perception + Finesse roll substituting for Craft: Bronzeworker against an Ease Factor at least 3 higher than the mundane Ease Factor. Failure reduces the bronze to a slumped lump as if an incompetent beginner had worked on it.

(Base 2, +1 Touch, +2 metal, +2 Group, +1 flexibility, +1 size)

Forge of Purest Bronze

Rego Terram 20, R: Touch, D: Momentary, T: Group

This spell smelts and purifies up to ten cubic feet of bronze source materials. The pieces may be existing bronze work or raw copper, zinc, or lead bars. To achieve a suitable final result the caster must succeed a Finesse difficulty check of 12+. Appropriate craft skills may be add to this roll.

(Base 2, +1 Touch, +2 Group, +2 metal, +1 size)

Ominous Levitation of the Weighty Bar

Rego Terram 20, R: Voice, D: Concentration, T: Individual

As per Ominous Levitation of the Weighty Stone, HoH:S p38, but directs items made of metal.

(Base 3, +2 Voice, +1 Concentration, +2 affect metal)

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Warping Points advancement house rule

A Final Twilight event as a result of extended Warping for Magi is potentially how their lives as characters will end, although to be fair many Magi in my experience are retired by story events, killed, or paused due to a permanent hiatus of the game. In my view warping is something which infrequently impacts a Magus character and very rarely ends their life through Final Twilight.

When advancing a character through their years post-gauntlet in bulk there is a rough rule of thumb to add a few warping points each year due to longevity, strange events and spell casting botches. Two points per year is ok, but does not reflect virtues and flaws, or other game events.

So how many points are reasonable to add per year when advancing a character before play begins?

Here are my suggestion:

  1. Add 1 point per year the character has a Longevity Ritual. This is standard to the core rules.
  2. Add 1 point for each extra virtue or flaw gained though non-Twilight related means (cult initiation, realm of magic, freaky story event in accelerated advancement, etc).
  3. Add 1 point per 5 years (rounding down) if the character has a flaw which makes Twilight more regular or more severe. If the character has more than one of these flaws then they are cumulative.
  4. Add 5 points per 10 years after their Gauntlet; because things go wrong.
  5. Mitigate the total value of item 4 above by subtracting the Familiar’s Golden Bond score; because the cord should greatly reduce the probability of botching.
  6. Further mitigate item 4 if the character has a suitable virtue such as Cautious Sorcerer, reducing by -1 for each.

Hope this is useful.

An update to Agnarr,

I missed posting final stats for Agnarr, so updating the character sample provided earlier to his “advanced” stats. In hindsight I altered a starting spell to allow Agnarr to conjure ice using formulaic magic, as an ice Magus I think he needed that. Also added his familiar – a large polar bear. Characters are sometimes never finished.

Magus Agnarr Kallhjartad, Ex Miscellanea – a sample Ars Magica wizard. 

Backstory

Two men draped in furs walk side by side through a hilly grassland covered in silvery frost. Both are indistinguishable due to the dim moonlight, although one is clearly armed with shield and long spear. Following behind them aways walks a large white bear.

“I’ll tell you a little, but lets keep walking till the sun’s up.” The other nods. “Was born a Sami, who live far in the north. Not the pleasant north here, far beyond that; right to edge of the ice where man cannot survive and the cold will break your teeth. My family were herders and trappers in their village, and with their short lives and dark nights they are an untrusting and spiritual people.”

“Untrusting like you.”

“Yes, and worse Jaern. I’m told that when I was born my family knew I was different. They call it touched, and in those lands it meant a child is cursed in a way that splits them from life. I was kept fed but not expected to live through the harsh winters. The family broke with tradition and refused to name me as all children are named in spring, enough of an admission to the rest of the village. ”

“After a year or so the shaman who lived many days downriver came and performed some sort of rites, and finally gave me my tribe name – Kallhjartad, the Cold Heart. It was fitting and allowed my family to see an end. And any end was preferable for them as the shame and guilt of bearing a touched child was a burden.”

“Wait, your sorcery isn’t a boon?”

“The curse makes people nervous and hostile. My family were openly troubled by my curse and this naming confirmed that if I survived another handful of years I’d have a place apart from the family, and still technically part of the community. You don’t feel it at present as I often shield you from its worse effects, that illease and creepiness is the touch of magic.”

“The shaman said when the time came I would be taken and trained in their ways. However only a few years after, and well before the shaman returned to claim me another man, a soothsayer well feared, came through the village and claimed me instead. My old pa knew of him but da had never seen him. He took me before my third name day, and from what I gather now he took me by force and cared little for what the village thought. That other man was Master Ailo. After that I stayed at the covenant for all my days. Trying to not get a whipping and learn something useful. ”

“That’s Ailo for certain, never around and as snappish as his old wolf. ”

“That wolf is twice as mean as any other natural animal I’ve met, but he’s also loyal. Means a lot to us. That’s why they mended your arm when it was half torn off too,” nodding upward at Jaern’s spear arm.

“Still hurts in winter. Not that you’d notice..”

Interrupting with a laugh, “..sook more Jaern. You’re twice as rich and twice as old as every other grog we have. A linnorm takes a snap on your elbow, and you live in hospice for a month and find yourself with a nice wife. ‘Tis a good outcome.”

“Hrrhmm. Be better when kids are grown. That’ll settle Ella’s moods,” looking sideways at Agnarr.

Smiling, “Oh yes? Horse dung it will!”

“Then give me a rote to help, you know her!”

“Ha, no. Her hospice was one of the few places outside Ailo’s lab that I saw for my apprenticeship. She’s as much a kind mother to me as Ailo might be a misguided father. No kid knows any different from their growing ways, but I knew the other apprentices were treated differently. They certainly got out more and the hospice has a quiet private place where everyone didn’t mind bending the rules. I’ll not be hexing Ella.”

“Wasn’t just you they watched Agnarr. That girl lost to the wildfires and another normal child stolen from our village a score of years before meant everyone got watchful.”

Appearance

Agnarr changes clothes to suit the temperature preferring to avoid being overly warm. His combinations of robe, tunic, or leggings are of wool and coloured blue hues, and wears a hooded cloak made from white owl feathers. His black hair has started to silver prematurely through his head and beard, and both are kept long but trimmed neatly. Agnarr has grey eyes, a lean face, long looking limbs, and a tendency to stand tall with feet apart at attention while thinking; a habit of apprenticeship.

His clothing and gear often looks clean but well worn and sturdy, as he prefers function over aesthetics, and as a Magus he has indulged in better quality raw materials and some trims and folds for decoration. Agnarr travels with a thin staff, hunting knife, a pack, and sled when pulling larger burdens. He may pack a suit of heavy leather hauberk but wears it very infrequently.

History

Life as an apprentice to Ailo often kept Agnarr secluded away from the covenant and certainly away from the outside world. The small information he knew about the wider world was diluted and reduced by the internal concerns. Ailo is a reserved and reclusive man who insisted his apprentice work to his patterns. Agnarr’s childhood years were quiet and frequently uneventful; the small drama and twists he saw seemed large, and while he was always busy he was also always safe.

Initially his knowledge of his early childhood is based upon the small amounts of reading he was able to do at his home covenant and the stories of his Master Ailo. He trusts enough of his Master’s word to take most as truth, but shortly after his apprenticeship he travelled back into the Sami regions to see his people first hand. Agnarr knows the Covenfolk were truthfully more likely his people than the Sami, however seeing his childhood lands have him a small peace.

The later years of his training expanded his non-magical skills and instilled in Agnarr a desire to train others. He knows there are very few practitioners of his magical tradition, and he is determined to find and train others. As he grew older he also became aware of the stigmatism of belonging to his tradition. Many other Magi view the tradition as little more than limited specialists, and certainly of limited worth to the wider community of the Order. Agnarr is considering his options to overturn this impression.

Training in an insular covenant of mixed Houses developed a tight bond between the Masters of the covenant and their apprentices. Over the apprenticeship Agnarr formed a bond with his Master and also two of the other senior Magi outside his Ex Miscellanea tradition, so much so he feels a sense of obligation to them. Should they ask he will assist, and he knows should he need it their help will likewise come to his aid.

Agnarr first heard of the malady very late and immediately thought to travel north. Like his covenmates he was shocked by the stories brought by the redcap. When news arrived of an incident with a Magus in his tribunal he quickly and efficiently packed his possessions, said his goodbyes through the covenant, and left for his birth land.

Agnarr replaced his birth name of Kallhjartad largely due to the stories of many Scandinavian heroes who bear a variation on the name.

Statistics, at Gauntlet

Agnarr Kallhjartad (cold hearted),
Concept: Magus of Ice and Cold

Characteristics: Int +3, Per -1 (preoccupied), Pre 0, Com +3, Str -1 (thin build), Sta +2 (tenacious), Dex 0, Qik -3
Size: 0, Age: 25 (25), Height: 170 cm, Weight: 70 kg, Gender: Male, Decrepitude: 0
Warping Score: 0 (0), Confidence: 1 (3)

Virtues and Flaws: Affinity with Aquam, Affinity with Ignem, Deft Form (Aquam) [Form: Aquam], Flawless Magic (Spell Mastery Experience: Doubled), The Gift, Greater Immunity (Cold)*, Hermetic Magus, Inventive Genius (Invent Lab Totals: +3), Minor Magical Focus (Ice)*, Puissant Magic Theory, Puissant Aquam, Withstand Casting, Covenant Upbringing, Driven (Grow magical line), Environmental Magic Condition (Temp above 15c)*, Favors (Previous Coven magi), Hedge Wizard, Warped Magic (Nearby items become cold) [Side Effect: Nearby items become cold], Weird Magic (Botches on Stressed Casting: Extra botch die)

Reputations: Hedge Wizard 3

Abilities: Area Lore: Finland 1, Artes Liberales 1 (ritual magic), Awareness 2 (alertness), Brawl 1 (Dodge), Concentration 1 (spell concentration), Finesse 2 (targeting), Finnish 5, Folk Ken 2, Hunt 1 (tracking), Latin 4 (hermetic usage), Leadership 1 (laboratory work), Magic Lore 1, Magic Theory 3+2 (Aquam), Order of Hermes Lore 1 (House Ex Misc), Parma Magica 1 (Aquam), Penetration 1 (Aquam), Scribe 1 (copying), Survival 2 (very cold climates), Teaching 2, 

Arts: Cr 6, In 0, Mu 6, Pe 5, Re 6, An 1, Aq 9+3, Au 0, Co 0, He 0, Ig 6, Im 0, Me 0, Te 0, Vi 5

  • Spells Known:
    Javelin of Sharpened Ice (Cr(Re)Aq 15) +28, Mastery 2 (multiple casting). (Multiple Casting 2x) As per “Dagger of Ice” altered to be sharper and stronger, inflicting +10 damage. 
  • Encase in Ice (CrAq 20) +27, Mastery 1 (penetration). The target is surrounded in ice, potentially encasing the target. Enveloped targets may attempt to break free, see Shackles of Frozen Ice (ReAq20, HoH:S p.35). If the target is too large the ice will cover an area up to 560 cubic feet. 
  • Lungs of the Fish (Personal) (MuAq(Au) 15) +9, Mastery 1 (fast casting)
  • Winter’s Icy Touch (PeIg 10) +14, Mastery 1 (multiple casting) 
  • Ward Against Winter’s Cold (ReIg 15) +15, Mastery 1 (still casting). Base 4 to ward against code in the same manner as heat. This spell protects again all normal cold, as cold spells inflicting up to +5 damage.
  • Wizard’s Reach (Aquam) (MuVi 20) +14, Mastery 1 (imperturbable casting)
  • Unravelling the Fabric of Aquam (PeVi 5) +13, Mastery 1 (unraveling)
  • Maintaining the Demanding Spell (ReVi 20) +14, Mastery 1 (still casting)

ice-wizard

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Observations on drafting an apprentice in Ars Magica RPG

Hey there, firstly some disclosure – I’m a massive fan of the Ars Magica roleplaying game, so this post is a collected rant on a concept, not a broadside to the game. I didn’t write 400+ spells for a game I dislike, these comments come from the passion. There is also a sourcebook for dealing specifically with young characters and apprentices, which covers many of the issues in greater detail.

Making an early life character should be a little easier than crafting a wizard, because in theory the character has had less time in the setting and should not have the complexity and experience points of an older character. Generally it is too, but I find it has different problems. As a player I want t be able to try many different solutions to story challenges, and skills are a hurdle to many solutions.

There is little skill depth for very young Ars Magica characters. I say this as the early life XP only allows for a few skills at a moderate level, and no skills at high numbers. Now while that makes sense, it still seems that younger people might need slightly more breadth in skills coverage than allowed in the rules if they are to conduct themselves as leads in longer stories. or a more forgiving set of challenges in play.

For example – a character who is around 10-12 years old and knows two languages reasonably well has almost no remaining skill points to spend on other skills. It seems incorrect. It appears that the skill abstraction which works for seasoned characters does not feel right in youth.

It is actually also a problem in later life characters too, in that the skills/XP/purchase scale hash does not allow for a wide variety of skills without being very limiting to the character also being good at one thing. A new wizard for example can have a few skills at reasonable level (which is needed) and very little else. Building a great all-rounder is nigh on impossible without using a lot of Virtues. This is doubly problematic in Ars as it is a game where strong specialisation is preferable (Finesse, Arts, Combat, etc). Virtues and Flaws can help to some degree to cover a generalist, however not at all in many cases.

So what do we as players do?

  1. Well primarily we set the group expectation to recognise the limitations and encourage stories (and story-guides) to not push boundaries where a young character would be unduly challenged.
  2. Scale the challenges to the characters. I know that is very often a given in Ars Magica but it is not always the case. Difficulty numbers for target rolls can be set to ranges where the characters will fail, which runs into why the role was needed or expected in the fist place.
  3. An apprentice story should be designed so that the outcomes are not dependant on successful skill resolution.
  4. Expect to fail, and embrace how the event plays out in the story.
  5. Haggle the group for temporary skills – a few more xp in character generation, even if those skills will later be “forgotten”. “When I was young I went fishing a bit, but I’ve forgotten all of it over the years”.

Happy gaming.

Tyne, a sample Ars Magica Shield Grog

portrait-tyneTyne proved her worth as a brawler in prison surviving through harsh conditions and torturous captors. She was sent away for “correction of her manner, being too impolite and unruly for decent living” but has never spoken of the activities which brought her to that position. Tyne was certainly changed, and when she exited she had learned to hold her fists and tongue far better, and had also gained invaluable martial skills. When she was finally released as a clemency on a holy day, she traveled briefly to her home village and then left to wander. She fell in with a band of brigands and was later again captured by the authorities, this time branded as a criminal. Tyne met Magus Corbin close to the end of his apprenticeship after her second release from incarceration. He needed a guard who wouldn’t ask questions and she needed protection and money to survive. Continue reading