Fantasy Runeblade built for Ars Magica

“The runeblade is an extension of your being. A death knight cannot battle without a runeblade.”

– Instructor Razuvious

Q. What would a runeblade be like if made using Ars Magica mechanics?

A. Incredibly nasty, especially if used against mundanes. As an-ex Wow’er this post has been a long time coming and I’ve enjoyed throwing all sorts of power descriptions below, and seeing which ones suit it best. For the purposes of this post the powers have been created using the Hermetic magic rules, while in-game an infernal equivalent is very reasonable. WoW and Ars Magica deal with

Runeblades are usually swords inscribed with magical or demonic runes that grant certain powers to the wielder. All high-ranking death knights wield their own personal, named runeblade, called vampiric runeblades. However, runeblades are not unique to the Scourge. Although Frostmourne was undoubtedly the most prominent runeblade in existence, there are quite a few additional ones.

– Wowikia

In game mechanically there is a magic resistance (MR) consideration for the invested powers which alter the runeblades but to not affect anyone hit with it; normally these would also be resisted by MR which in turn mean the weapon would be useless against any creature or person with MR. In my opinion and frequent house-rule is the non-material powers do not get stopped by MR. Likewise a power can be resisted and the physical sword blade can still hurt the opponent. The supernatural effect is resisted, but the steel is not. This is so that magical weapons do not need to be over engineered for the game and interactions with MR are simpler. YSMV.

Some sample powers might be:

Arcane Link – 1x pawn vis, as the runeblade is a fixed arcane connection to the owner.

Cause Fatigue – PeIg 38, (Base 4, +1 Touch, +1 Animal targets, +5 for 24 uses per day, +20 for Penetration +40, +3 specific owner only), if being held by the owner the next creature struck suffers a Fatigue level of exhaustion.

Dance and Float – ReTe28, (Base 4, +1 Concentration, +2 extra strength to stay in place, +5 device maintains concentration, +5 for 24 uses per day, +3 specific owner only), the sword may be commanded to float and dance in place, and cannot be moved by anyone else.

Dark Whispers – CrMe 43, (Base 3, +4 Arcane, +3 Moon, +5 for 24 uses per day, +5 for +10 penetration, +3 cannot affect owner), after touching blood the sword will whisper to the target who hears an eerie and disturbing voice in their mind speaking of their downfall or death.

Destruction of Men and Beasts – PeCo45, (Base 15, +1 Touch, +1 Animal targets, +10 unlimited uses, +10 for Penetration +20, +3 cannot affect the owner), inflicts a heavy wound on any human touched by the blade. This power may be resisted by powerful opponents, however it is designed to be devistating to lesser creatures.

Encase in Ice – CrAq30, (Base 3, +1 Touch, +1 Diameter, +5 for 24 uses per day, +17 for Penetration +34, +3 specific owner only), the next target touched with the blade is encased in ice, likely stopping all movement and soon to suffocate. Creature up to size +1 can be encased.

Eerie Light – CrIg17, (Base 3, +14 Constant effect), the blade always glows with an eerie blue and white light akin to torchlight.

Indestructible – MuTe24, (Base 4, +2 metal, +14 Constant effect), the blade is all but indestructible.

Wracking Pain – PeCo40, (Base 4, +1 Touch, +2 Sun, +3 specific user not affected, +10 unlimited uses, +17 for +34 Penetration), if touched by anyone except the owner the power inflicts pain upon them until the next sunrise or sunset.

Discussing and Improving the Invisible Sling of Vilano

Here are some thoughts about the Invisible Sling of Vilano, which is arguably one of the most dangerous offensive spells in the Ars Magica role playing game. These are meta-thoughts on the mechanics of spells, rather than actual spells which are direct boosts (you’ve been warned, heh).

I say arguably as the defense against the spell is trivial to accomplish for an experienced wizard who dedicates significant time to it, but impractical for most wizards, and the spell is wonderfully effective against creatures with high resistance to magical attacks. Frankly an opponent who has high magical resistance and also a high soak is darn powerful and is not meant to be fought head on without planning. Ars Magica is a story & discussion (at length) rpg and high challenge beasts should not be knocked down by a single style of attack. It would be the same in any game, but particularly so in Ars Magica as it does not make for compelling stories.

(a) Have you tried Multi-casting?

Simply put Multi-casting with Mastery is far less contentious because this is exactly the style of spell that should directly benefit from multi-casting, and it is the core rules. Use it. In fact this is really the go-to way to gain the maximum bang for your XP once a spell has been mastered.

Some troupes will limit or curtail the power of multi-casting, and that’s the troupe choice – I’m not a fan of that option, but it’s fair if applied equally and stated up front. There are so many ways to be an effective combat wizard in Ars Magica that it shouldn’t be a problem.

(b) Can the damage scale or stack?

Well maybe. Strictly speaking the rules are not definitive.

The ways that a Rego Terram spell like this could be improved is very particular to the style of the group playing Ars Magica. Opinions are divided in the discussion forums, although they do lend themselves toward one interpretation. The opinion was tending toward limiting the multiplicative power of concurrent iterations of a spell in spell designs (to be clear, you don’t just add more versions of an effect to increase the overall damage). Other players seek to allow stacking effects for increased damage output in a very linear way.

I’ve seen it called modifying the “base effect” vs modifying the “effect usage”. That makes a kind of sense, such as the difference between a large fire spell and a small one using a different base 10 or base 25 (variations on Pilum of Fire or Ball of Abysmal Flame), and also fire effects that use a Target: Group to increase the area of damage (Arc of Firery Ribbons). Both are legit.

There are two general approaches, each with variations, depending on how the troupe treats a change from Target: Individual to Target: Group – which in RAW is essentially allowing 10x times the material to be manipulated by a spell. Note too that many troupes will dismiss all these options as munchkin-isms.

  1. The 10x increase in the volume of thrown stones requires each throw to be aimed individually and damage to be resolved individually. This means 10x targeting rolls and 10x damage rolls, each doing +5 damage. This results in the spell being far more powerful and inflicting dramatically more damage due to how many more opportunities the spell has to hit and roll a high damage result.
  2. As (1) above, except the targeting rolls are made per target, and the damage is still inflicted per effect. This is a better option for speed of game-play, but sacrifices the opportunity for spray effects.
  3. As (1) above, except that targets with a soak/toughness +10 points or more above the +5 damage (so soak +15 or higher in the base example) brush off the damage without actually resolving the dice rolls. This mitigates the threat to targets with high soak. Tough characters stay tough, but softer targets are still significantly threatened.
  4. As (2) however a penalty applies for splitting the targets. This approach dictates that one primary target is chosen and trying to split the spell to target two different foes is very difficult,and suffers a Finesse targeting modifier.
  5. Allow the 10x fold increase to inflict damage once for each target, which inflicts more damage using a scale of how many stones struck each target. The scaling chosen really makes of breaks the approach, and scaling is dangerous (very ill-favored). Linear scaling: 1 stone +5 damage, 5 stones +10, 10 stones +15. Pyramid scaling: 1 stone +5 damage, 3 stones +10, 6 stones +15, 10 stones +20 damage.

Which to choose is up to the troupe. It is worth noting that going beyond 10x stones with a spell is certainly possible, but will not be practical in most scenarios as the raw materials are not present to fling so many rocks around.

(c) Increase the base effect guideline to make new versions?

Well I hope it can, as that’s what this spell does – a vicious version of Vilano’s Sling.

The RAW mechanics allow for damage to scale with the base effect, and that an increase in the size of the projectile make no significant change in the damage. Therefore a good design keeps the stones to fit sized as:

  • Base 5, +5 damage
  • Base 10, +10 damage
  • Base 15, +15 damage
  • And I assume this can continue just like the Ignem damage increments.


A small assortment of enchanted devices

Here is a selection of magical devices from an Ars Magica play-by-post game starting shortly. The devices are not overly different from the core spells they’re based on before being used in lesser enchanted devices, however as written there are a few key differences.

The intent of the first item is to provide a very dangerous spell effecting terms of the damage it inflicts, which is done by extending the duration of the normal lightning spell from a momentary lightning strike to a prolonged effect which surrounds the target. A +30 damage is very harmful already, with this effect that damage continues for 2 minutes.

Ring of Enveloping Lightning

The ring is enchanted as lesser device, with a “Prolonged Incantation of Lightning“, as a total effect level 60.

(CrAu40 – Base 5, +2 Voice, +4 unnatural, +1 Diameter), then Pen 34 (+17), 6 Uses per day (+3). Inflicts +30 damage per round for Diameter, knockdown effect as per spell in Ars p126.

The device shape is a small precious gem hidden within a plain silver ring, activated by touching the thumb to the ring and speaking the phrase “no more” in Latin.

The second ring is a defensive tool. As a ghost the wearer is removed from almost all typical sources of harm.

Ring of Ghostly Form

Enchanted as a lesser device, with “Form of the Lost Ancestor“, effect level 50.

MuCo/Me 40 (Base 30, +1 Conc, +1 Touch), Device Conc (5), 24 Uses (5). Form is a precious gem hidden within silver ring.

Effect will make the target insubstantial, similar to a ghost. They are unaffected by physical things such as weapons, beasts, the elements, and likewise cannot touch physical things, but remains visible. The target can move themselves at running speed.

The third device was invented to be thematic. It has no real game mechanical advantage.

An Illustrative History of the Order

A tapestry several paces wide and floor to curling tall, woven with the symbol of the Order of Hermes as a large central emblem which is surrounded by a sigil of each art, and then each house.

The Weave of Lore and Whimsy – effect Creo Imagonem 20 (CrIm 1, +1 moving, +2 variety of images, +1 complex high quality art, +2 Sun), +2 for 6 use/day, Env trigger +3 for sunrise and sunset. Tapping the edge of the tapestry three times in quick succession will also stop or begin the cycle.

The device’s effect shows a cycle of complex moving images which represent major stages and personalities in the history of the Order. Each image moves slightly to lend a depth, shadow, and movement. Each depiction still looks as if it was crafted in tapestry form, and also moves with it’s own animation.

E.g. The fire around Flambeau moves, as he stands in place. Akin to the Harry Potter portraits, stylised for medieval art. The symbol of Tytalus slowly turns clockwise and counter clockwise, the Bjornaer symbol morphs between cone, circle, triangle. Etc.

Events include The Founding, the Sundering, the Fight against the Spider, the war against Diedne, and thematic visualisation of each Founder, and many more (to suit a 2 mag increase in complexity!)

The last device is specifically chosen for communications and because the spell is apparently not viewed as scrying by the Order in the strictest sense.

The Orb of Telepresence

An orb of white marble one span in diameter, held in a rosewood and brass box.

Device level 60. Effect as per Haunt of the Living Ghost (CrIm/In 35) Ars Magica p.144, modified as a lesser device as: +5 Device maintains conc, +2 for 6 use/day, +18 Pen bonus +36.

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.

I don’t like the lore about Wizard’s Wars in Ars


Back in the old days when Ars Magica v3 was new I think the rules for Wizard’s Wars stipulated that both parties had to agree to the conflict. Either it was in the book, or the guys I played with made that house rule. Sure, a big nasty wizard could threaten another, intimidate, or whatever, but could not just declare a war and start killing somebody else. In v5 one wizard can declare a war on another, and it just starts automatically a month or so later. No acceptance, no agreement. Fight or flee.

In the flavour and fluff a WW is meant to be a way to resolve disputes and is also meant to be a last resort. It is also meant to be frowned upon by the Order of Hermes for a wizard to start waring with many people, or the same people repeatedly.

We also have a setting in ArM v5 which presents a more orderly, bureaucratic, and safer Order of Hermes than older editions. The Order accepts and has laws that allow bullying and murder in the oaths. I find that combination of views an incongruity, and it bugs me. How could it possibly be safer? Younger wizards are at a huge disadvantage, and specialists in certain type of fighting will be hard to stop by non-specialists.

There is also an implication that the result of a Wizard’s War isn’t lethal. This doesn’t make any sense either. As the defender in a war which wasn’t desired, if you survive, you better power-up and kill that attacker. And make sure you wipe him out. If the attacker misses the first time, you might have some breathing space, but eventually it will happen again. Entering a potentially lethal conflict isn’t something anyone does lightly, and the instigator of a war probably knows what they are getting into. The Order in the present cannon offers you no protection except somebody waggling their finger at your killer afterward. I do not understand the idea of surviving a life threatening (magical) attack and then not expecting it to happen again.

The current lore places the typical starting scenarios so close to immediately lethal that all the exceptions are feint edge cases. Huh? Hardly safer.

In my games the wars have to be agreed and sanctioned by the Order. That gives the tribunal the overview of the activity, and also control of harassing behaviour before wizards start dying. It’s not cannon, but it makes far more sense in the setting. The Order of Hermes didn’t grow to it’s size by wizards casually murdering each other, so any type of one-sided sanctioned murder is silly.

Lesser magical device – Silence the Heckler’s Dissent

Another low powered but useful item for a starting covenant, created for the Ars Magica RPG. I can see this item being carried by those who have to interact with normal folks, but wish to keep the upper hand during negotiation.

Silence the Heckler’s Dissent

Created as a lesser enchanted device which allowed the user to force the target to stutter and slur words. All Communication rolls are at -3, all spoken spells are at -6 and include an extra botch dice (as per Curse of the Unruly Tongue. ArM p 134).

  • R: Voice, D: Conc, T: Ind
  • Base effect: Rego Corpus 2, R: Voice (+2), D: Conc (+1), 24 uses per day (+5)
  • Form and Material: a small wooden baton.
  • Effect level 5, Item level 10. Crafted as a lesser enchanted device.
  • Item activation: The wooden baton is tapped three times quickly by the user.

Lesser magical device – The Chiurgeon’s Gewgaw

A low powered but useful item for a starting covenant, created for the Ars Magica RPG.

The Chiurgeon’s Gewgaw

The Chiurgeon’s Gewgaw is a rectangular palm sized smooth rock crystal. This is a lesser enchanted device which allowed the user to understand the general health of a single person (as per Physician’s Eye, ArM core rulebook). Intended for use during triage.

  • Base effect: Intellego Corpus 4, R: Touch (+1), 24 uses per day (+5)
  • R: Touch, D: Mom, T: Ind
  • Form and Material: a small sample of rock crystal (+3 to healing) which can rest in the palm.
  • Effect level 5, Item level 10. Crafted as a lesser enchanted device.
  • Item activation: Touch the rock crystal to the target’s forehead, and hold momentarily.