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.

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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

G is for Grind

No, no, not grinder; Grind. As in The Grind.

That feeling in games when you’re tasked with completing an objective, but it will take a long time to get done mainly through repetitive tasks. As a wow player I’ve been conditioned to grinds as a normal part of “gameplay”. I accepted early game creators could not create content as fast as I could consume it, so in-built repeats are needed. This is especially true of MMO games, where the content can be consumed at a staggering pace. Such is life.

A grind is not so bad either, if combined with a story element. The reason that the same daily quests are present could be that the problem cannot be solved simply once. Working at a prolonged quest can feel appropriate.

  • Levels, XP
  • Gold, Credits,
  • Mobs, Monsters
  • Gear, Drops
  • and yesss, oh yess, Coffee.

Then there is the grind which is somewhat pointless – to only gain a secondary objective. I get that too, but wish the games would cover the grinds in a little more smoke and mirrors to keep them bound within the story.

Part of the Blogging A to Z initiative, is to create an A-Z list of some sort, and I’m posting what ever random thoughts pop into my head for each letter of the alphabet.

E is for Experience

E is for Experience.

In my (somewhat not very) humble opinion experience rewards should be:

  • related to successful story objectives, rather than kills, dice-rolls, or dumb luck.
  • rewarded extra for clever ideas.
  • rewarded extra for great roleplaying (a.k.a. acting).
  • rewarded for allowing others to enjoy the game too.
  • I’m not a fan of XP penalties, it seems counter intuitive to offer a disincentive to a hobby activity.

The rewarding for “good” roleplaying is a tough one. Giving one player a bonus for being a solid player is good, this might affect other players, where they see they cannot compete and therefore not try. That is a tough situation, and done best by (a) making the extra reward difference between players very small, and (b) perhaps not doing it initially to allow the players to warm-up.

Another thought I have, although I’ve not tried it yet is keeping the characters on exactly the same XP always. This removes the incentive for rewards, but also removes the penalties if a player cannot play for a reason. The team advance together. I really wish to try this in a game that is sympathetic to group advancement.

Part of the Blogging A to Z initiative, is to create an A-Z list of some sort, and I’m posting what ever random thoughts pop into my head for each letter of the alphabet.

XP Calculation (ArM How To)

As a response to the confusion* I had when my players were creating characters, here is a summary how XP is calculated for characters in Ars Magica; using a slightly different method from the default in the style of explanation. The outcome is the same, and I find the points breakdown far easier to spend during creation, especially when done by hand.

As there are two broad character types in Ars Magica, the character generation is also designed in two ways: there are rules for Magi, and rules for everyone else. The Companion and Grog (mundanes) rules are very simple, and the Magi rules are far more complicated.

XP in 5th edition has been heavily base-lined, so that the points spent in Abilities (skills) are the same as the points spent on Arts and Spells (magical powers). The characters spend them in different ways, but essentially as the points are the same, I sum up the totals, and set checkpoints for the minimum spend in the different areas.

The examples below for Magi demonstrate how powerful having post-apprenticeship years are before play begins, so it is worth noting that it is not typical to do this for young Magi, or that it might create an imbalance between characters. Be wary allowing too many years post-apprenticeship, and always enforce the Warp point penalties (2 per year post-apprenticeship).

XP Formula: Early Childhood + Later Life (+ Apprenticeship + Post-Apprenticeship)

Continue reading