Quick example of how to improve a Magi’s lab in Ars Magica

I was initially baffled by how to spec and then alter a Magi’s lab in Ars Magica. These are my cheat notes for how it works… 

A basic rule is for every improvement you want it to make in a lab it probably requires an investment of a season to make the change, and first an additional space. The remaining space is represented by the size less the consumed space, and the process of Refinement adds more space to a lab by reorganising the current content. Essentially the Magus can reorganise the content many times but there is little benefit unless the new space created will be used for something significant. 

This means that a season is needed to refine a lab first, and then whatever enhancement. So most improvements need two or more seasons. In more detail…using an example helps. 

Firstly, a brief description of the initial lab should be written. This fluff allows a common view point for the starting conditions and a basis for expansion.

“The laboratory of Zharkune the Necromancer is located below the ground in one of the Covenant’s cellars. This is accessed by a secured stairway from an antechamber on the tower’s ground level aside the main corridor. Both the antechamber and the downward stairwell are secured by heavy wooden door, the inner door bearing Zharkune’s sancta marker. Inside  the cellar is cold and dark, with no natural light which insulates the lab against outside noises. The lab is standard size, with a two small storage chambers to the north, a side reverie for reading, and an unused but furnished sleeping chamber to the south, as Zharkune also keeps a larger residence in the upper levels of the tower. The ancillary chambers are not considered part of the lab proper, but could be converted for use in the future.”

The second task is to set the initial conditions of the lab, and those are based upon the construction, physical environment, and resources of the covenant. Some labs will start very plain with no special features, but many should start with altered characteristics. Further if the covenant has pervasive aspects like a regio or in an extreme temperature then this should be accounted for.

Laboratory of Zharkune the Necromancer – Starting characteristics. 

Working scores: +2 Safety, +2 Aesthetics, +1 Upkeep, -1 Health, +1 Terram, 


  • Well Insulated (behind two doors and underground): +1 Safety, +1 Aesthetics.
  • Subterranean (cellar): +1 Upkeep, -1 Health, -1 Aesthetics, +1 Terram. 
  • Guard (who protects the outer door): +1 Aesthetics.
  • Superior Construction (a conjured tower): +1 Safety, +1 Aesthetics

Laboratory of Zharkune the Necromancer – Modified characteristics. 

After a brief year (a season of refinement and a season to invest each of the two properties) Zharkune’s lab has become specialised to his tastes. 

Working scores: +2 Refinement, +2 Safety, +4 Aesthetics, +1 Upkeep, +1 Health, +1 Terram, +1 Corpus, +1 Creo, +1 Warping, 

Additional attributes:

  • Specimens (human body parts): kept for study and for reanimation. +1 Upkeep, +1 Aesthetics, +1 Corpus.
  • Preserved (a magical storeroom): which keeps content immune from natural decay. -1 Upkeep, +1 Warping, +2 Health, +1 Aesthetics; +1 Cr.

Advice for lab creation

A common example – a covenant tower created with a magical ritual or sources from some other supernatural source should start with the Superior Construction quality.

Also if the wizards have the option it is far better to create labs which are larger than the standard; meaning a positive size attribute due to initial construction. This is because each new aspect or quality which is added takes up a virtual point of space which is directly linked to size.

Then the players should discuss is any characters wish to gain highly customised aspects (such as a bottomless pit or sentient lab) as this will guide the flavour of the lab going forward.


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


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.”


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.


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)


Continue reading

Comic: This Is Why Cursive Is Dying Out

A great comic by Jim Benton. See more work on GoComics and his book. Found via IO9.

Terram Magi, the Societas Guernici, Covenant of Hedyosmos

I’m gathering material for a new Magus, who I wish to focus on Terram magic. This post is a place to gather all the points of reference into one place so I can find the material later, and also to share the existing sources for Terrae Magi.

Initially the Magus was to be based only within the current 5th edition rules for Ars Magica, but as I read the wider source books and community written content – the core approach doesn’t sound as deep or plentiful as the “Magi Terrae” which have been detailed elsewhere. I’d like to add another line of Terram orientated

Overview of Sources:

  1. Houses of Hermes: True Lineages (HoH:TL p68) mentions that Guernicus (the founder of the House and first Quaesitor) was also a passionate Terram Magus. It does not provide much more detail, except to say that the tradition is small and still in existence, and not a “proper” Mystery Cult in terms of the source books for Ars Magica. It implies the group is an association of like minded wizards who share a common interest and may share discoveries.
  2. The Sundered Eagle: The Theban Tribunal (tSE p67) gives more details on a particular sect of the society, detailing that particular sects link to the Greek Titans and their center of power within the Covenant of Hedyosmos. It contains a brief overview of what a Terram magus of this line might be like. It also briefly explains the link between this style of earth magic and the cult of the dead. This is a useful core rules source as it also contains the initiation scripts and suggestions for powers which are appropriate (such as Elemental spirit familiars).
  3. Jarkman’s Terrae Magi / and Societas Guernici: includes a rule-set for making characters who are members of two different lines of Guernicus, the detailed Mystery Cult, new Terram spells, and a wonderful set of lore.
  4. Hermes Portal, Issue 14 – Omnibus Grimoire Terram: includes some wonderful spells, including almost a match to a “set of steps” which was an effect I’ve drafted but not as yet finished.

Thoughts on Sources:

There is a little contention between these sources, which is to be embraced. The sources for the official RAW line clearly detail that Guernicus founded a society, and not a mystery cult, yet much of the material is based upon mystery cult structures.

The initial section in HoH:TL suggests that the wider organization is open and welcoming, but also reads as if more restrictive when the members of the associations are role-played. That makes good sense and dovetails with the approaches from The Sundered Eagle and Jarkman’s pages.

I would like to see the Terrae Magi become a wider and more open association, which then contains these clutches and cults within it. The name “Students of The Stone” is very evocative and suitable. I don’t see a need to dispute any of the sources above, and would suggest a character in-play could become known as a “Student of the Stone” and be friendly with these traditions without disrupting their own path.

I’d like to detail an alternate path, which stands separate from these sources, and uses Scandinavian/Norse roots instead of Greek.

Hopefully more on that soon.


What should a beginning wizard be able to do?

When designing a Magus character is Ars Magica there are as many styles of wizard as you please. However a wizard who is over specialized, or who ignores some basic abilities might face some early challenges.

What should a beginning wizard be able to do?

  1. Defend or extricate themselves from a small group of mundane opponents. That could be a small bonus to soak and some weaponry, or a good few offensive spells, or whatever. Be ready for a basic scuffle.
  2. Neutralize, annihilate, or at the very least harm another creature; particularly at a Range beyond Touch. Touch is a little too close for many starting wizards.
  3. Affect a magical creature with a might score of 5-10. If the character has a large BOOM spell for inflicting large amounts of damage they should also consider another which is useful against creatures with Magical Resistance
  4. Because stories often take the character to new places – they should be able to travel in some manner with comfort. That might be teleportation, or transforming into a bird, or flying, or even just not suffering the chills and inconvenience of regular foot travel.

What should be considered?

  1. Spell to find & extract Vis.
  2. Be able to dispel your own effects if needed.
  3. Spell to maintain Duration:Concentration spells.
  4. A spell to bind wounds or mitigate damage.
  5. Interaction with mundanes, or ways to deal with it. 

Shamefully almost every Magus I’ve ever created fails some these points. Ah well, that’s the nature of the game – to play interesting stories. If the magus has all the answers then perhaps the stories might be missing too. 


Quick play of D&D Next

Friday night the usual suspects got around the big table and played the recent version of D&D Next play-test. So here are some badly thought through opinions on the game thus far:

  • It has changed more than I expected, and the changes are good. It is still D&D which is a good thing. I’m very keen to see and play more.
  • I still dislike levels and hit points, but there is no changing that. We had a good banter about why epic feels epic, and the D&D experience still comes built in with boom factor. So I’m kind of glad that hit points and levels are there, as it keeps essentially what I thought was the game, as they game.
  • I really like the way the Attack bonus for fighters is not 1/level. That makes it seem like their bonus to attack will not be so crazy at high level as to make others look silly, but they have an edge. Paladins, Barbarians and such are scales with them, which makes perfect sense. I think the Wizard’s scaling was missing in the pdf, which is hopefully an omission.
  • I don’t know how the table-top gamers will feel about the changes, as a mini-board is not really needed anymore. 4th ed had a lot of tactical edges which are gone from this play-test. I don’t miss them, but some people might. At some points a grid or minis would have been useful, but we got the job done quickly and clearly through conversation and hand drawn stuff.
  • How in hell are multi-class and class changes going to be handled in this version of the game? Looking forward to that cludge.
  • If you make a Cleric then choose your “always avail” power carefully. You will still be required to heal a lot in this version, so playing a cleric is still “that guy”. I played mine incorrectly in the playtest, but not wrongly enough to make me feel Clerics were anything interesting to me. I don’t enjoy healing. Scratch the class from the PHB in my version. If I’d made up a Cleric of the Reaper, which I almost did, then our party would have owned face – they deal huge damage, but are crappy healers. Now a Paladin maybe a different story.
  • Fighters are great. The new dice mechanics for special powers is empowering without being overpowered.
  • Monks look darn good at high levels – like getting straight 20s in all low stats at level 20. Heh, paragon games?
  • Wizards look the same, but I think our Wizard was playing it wrong too – my read is that a Wizard should always have one 1st level spell to use, and perhaps the Wizard should take a boom spell. Being left with cantrips is silly. It would be like leaving the two weapon fighter with a dagger. Or if he was playing it right and a Wizard can only cast x spells per day, with no default fallback, then scratch Wizard too.
  • I’m not sure a Rogue selection of advantages is handy in terms of having broad attack options, but would need to see how it played. A Rogue reads like it either operates alone, or as a team player, not both.
  • The rules are clear and fair thus far, and simple. It will be interesting to read what the advanced rules add in terms of complexity vs story.
  • The Backgrounds, specialties, and such are a great feature. In fact it is so good it should be added into most games in some manner or another.

More later, when I get another shot at the system. The guy in the pic below better have good fire resistance or a great insurance policy to cover incineration.

dragon attacks castle, poor defender