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?
- 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.
- 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.
- An apprentice story should be designed so that the outcomes are not dependant on successful skill resolution.
- Expect to fail, and embrace how the event plays out in the story.
- 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”.