Getting ready to do covenant creation for an Ars Magic campaign tonight. I’ve wanted to try Ars since I was 13 or 14.

Reading through some of it (not nearly all of it, yet!), it’s dense and meaty — but also exceptionally rich with opportunities for styles of play I enjoy, as well as styles of play I haven’t done as much of as I’d like.

The generational element, the long-term consequences of the characters’ actions, the way magi feel truly alien and dangerous, the various options for troupe play and round-robin GMing, and the shared experience of covenant creation and (possibly) pooled characters are all deeply appealing to me.

56 thoughts on “Getting ready to do covenant creation for an Ars Magic campaign tonight. I’ve wanted to try Ars since I was 13 or 14.

  1. Agreed with the weight of material. I have noticed 2 further obstacles that have kept me from trying this game out. 1) There seems to be an enormous amount of bookkeeping, during game and between sessions (‘homework’), plus 2) I’ve run into the “but what do you doooooo?” problem here. It seems building up and growing the Covenant is the ultimate purpose… for it’s own sake, it seems. I can’t discern the ultimate goal there. DISCLAIMER: I’ve read this a long time ago, and have never played it. Take what I say with a grain of salt.

  2. < ![CDATA[Agreed with the weight of material. I have noticed 2 further obstacles that have kept me from trying this game out. 1) There seems to be an enormous amount of bookkeeping, during game and between sessions ('homework'), plus 2) I've run into the "but what do you doooooo?" problem here. It seems building up and growing the Covenant is the ultimate purpose... for it's own sake, it seems. I can't discern the ultimate goal there. DISCLAIMER: I’ve read this a long time ago, and have never played it. Take what I say with a grain of salt.]]>

  3. Marshall Miller I don’t know. In Martin’s thread, it looks like his group is sticking to the core book, which seems reasonable.

    I also seem to remember Cam Banks talking about some efforts Atlas was considering to make the game more approachable, but I don’t know what happened with that.

  4. < ![CDATA[Marshall Miller I don't know. In Martin's thread, it looks like his group is sticking to the core book, which seems reasonable. I also seem to remember Cam Banks talking about some efforts Atlas was considering to make the game more approachable, but I don't know what happened with that.]]>

  5. Aside: this kind of paralysis has also kept me from tackling the metric ton of Glorantha products I’ve accumulated over the years. Every year, I resolve that Glorantha will be my “project”, and every year I fail to launch.

  6. < ![CDATA[Aside: this kind of paralysis has also kept me from tackling the metric ton of Glorantha products I've accumulated over the years. Every year, I resolve that Glorantha will be my "project", and every year I fail to launch.]]>

  7. Actually, Mark Delsing  I had a similar conversation with Radek Drozdalski  , and he recommended Ars Magica 2e as a more streamlined version, after he and Thor Olavsrud had a disastrous character creation session for 5e. I went and bought it, but haven’t read it. Put it down as another game we’ll have to play online someday 😉

  8. < ![CDATA[Actually, Mark Delsing  I had a similar conversation with Radek Drozdalski  , and he recommended Ars Magica 2e as a more streamlined version, after he and Thor Olavsrud had a disastrous character creation session for 5e. I went and bought it, but haven't read it. Put it down as another game we'll have to play online someday ;)]]>

  9. So I haven’t played Ars since fourth edition, and my longest campaign was third… I think. (So long ago, I’m so old I cannot remember anymore.)

    We would always use only the core book, plus if there was a regional book for the area we were in, we’d use that. Everything else was by the wayside.

    It’s one of those games where I felt you always had to limit your library. Much like a Vancian wizard prepping spells, you have so many you could potentially cast, but for this moment, you’re only gonna get four to fit in your head. Or in my case, two, maybe three. Anything past that is just calling for pain.

    So, really, its about setting some parameters on your campaign at the beginning. Like, “this is about the Rus during the Mongol invasions and how wizards deal with that, so we’re main book + Dragon and Bear + maybe some material from the companion.” Or “this is a game about Celtic wizards in an Anglo world, so main + Ireland book + fuck the english who mostly have some NPC type material from the nobles book.”

  10. < ![CDATA[So I haven't played Ars since fourth edition, and my longest campaign was third... I think. (So long ago, I'm so old I cannot remember anymore.) We would always use only the core book, plus if there was a regional book for the area we were in, we'd use that. Everything else was by the wayside. It's one of those games where I felt you always had to limit your library. Much like a Vancian wizard prepping spells, you have so many you could potentially cast, but for this moment, you're only gonna get four to fit in your head. Or in my case, two, maybe three. Anything past that is just calling for pain. So, really, its about setting some parameters on your campaign at the beginning. Like, "this is about the Rus during the Mongol invasions and how wizards deal with that, so we're main book + Dragon and Bear + maybe some material from the companion." Or "this is a game about Celtic wizards in an Anglo world, so main + Ireland book + fuck the english who mostly have some NPC type material from the nobles book."]]>

  11. Bothans are the ones that can generate information by dying. It’s a mysterious process but they actually decompose into units of information. If enough Bothans sacrifice themselves you could get the entire set of Death Star plans. True story.

  12. < ![CDATA[Bothans are the ones that can generate information by dying. It's a mysterious process but they actually decompose into units of information. If enough Bothans sacrifice themselves you could get the entire set of Death Star plans. True story.]]>

  13. FWIW as a total Ars newb:

    1. We’re only using the core book, and we’re playing brand-new magi in a spring covenant.

    2. Our GM has a ton of experience running and playing Ars.

    3. We play twice a month, which should give ample time for homework.

    4. WRT “what do we do,” we’re starting with founding our covenant. The GM has asked us to send him our flaws ASAP, because the story flaws will be used to provide adventure hooks and adversity.

  14. < ![CDATA[FWIW as a total Ars newb: 1. We're only using the core book, and we're playing brand-new magi in a spring covenant. 2. Our GM has a ton of experience running and playing Ars.
    3. We play twice a month, which should give ample time for homework.
    4. WRT “what do we do,” we’re starting with founding our covenant. The GM has asked us to send him our flaws ASAP, because the story flaws will be used to provide adventure hooks and adversity.]]>

  15. Whoops, also:

    5. Our covenant also has hooks! Lots of grist for the mill. I expect we’ll be in reactive mode, and a season per session, until we have our feet under us and can pivot to making the earth tremble beneath our pointy slippers.

  16. < ![CDATA[Whoops, also: 5. Our covenant also has hooks! Lots of grist for the mill. I expect we'll be in reactive mode, and a season per session, until we have our feet under us and can pivot to making the earth tremble beneath our pointy slippers.]]>

  17. Ars is not a game I could run or play, but I think that’s 100% a personality/preference thing. I love the game’s concept and its history and its authenticity. I love that its fans and the writers for the last edition are such enthusiastic advocates. It’s a challenge to look ahead for the game, because a new edition is more or less essential for us to do anything with it beyond continue to keep 5e books in stock. However, as others have noted, character creation takes a very long time, the best games are those run by skilled Storyguides who’ve got the rules down to a science, and the number of published books even just in 5th edition is around 45.

    I have a powerful desire to bring ArM to a new audience and a new era. I also know that this will make a lot of existing fans unhappy, even though we’re not going to be removing their books or invalidating anything in their experience.

    Our current plan is to release a GUMSHOE-powered RPG set in Ars Magica’s Mythic Europe, centered on the Quaesitors, who are basically the investigators of crimes against the Code of Hermes. It will have a very Dogs in the Vineyard/Brother Cadfael feel to it. But it’s a standalone, not the first in a new line.

    Beyond that, I’ve reached out to folks, and we’ve had volunteers from the ArM writer pool, but I think the groundwork for success in a 6th edition has yet to be completed.

  18. < ![CDATA[Ars is not a game I could run or play, but I think that's 100% a personality/preference thing. I love the game's concept and its history and its authenticity. I love that its fans and the writers for the last edition are such enthusiastic advocates. It's a challenge to look ahead for the game, because a new edition is more or less essential for us to do anything with it beyond continue to keep 5e books in stock. However, as others have noted, character creation takes a very long time, the best games are those run by skilled Storyguides who've got the rules down to a science, and the number of published books even just in 5th edition is around 45. I have a powerful desire to bring ArM to a new audience and a new era. I also know that this will make a lot of existing fans unhappy, even though we're not going to be removing their books or invalidating anything in their experience. Our current plan is to release a GUMSHOE-powered RPG set in Ars Magica's Mythic Europe, centered on the Quaesitors, who are basically the investigators of crimes against the Code of Hermes. It will have a very Dogs in the Vineyard/Brother Cadfael feel to it. But it's a standalone, not the first in a new line. Beyond that, I've reached out to folks, and we've had volunteers from the ArM writer pool, but I think the groundwork for success in a 6th edition has yet to be completed.]]>

  19. Brand has the right of it (though I too am a mostly 3rd edition player). The core book is plenty enough to do stuff, and the region books are only really there if you don’t want to make up your own stuff and want some juicy region stuff to kick off or reach into, but you really don’t even want past your home region.

    The book LOOKS intimidating, but it’s actually not that bad. The sections are pretty well separated, and as with a lot of big “tome” games there’s a lot of fluff, art and examples. Each section has some crunch (this is research, this is seasons, this is casting) but it’s bite sized and understandable.

    It looks a lot more intimidating than it is. I find it requires far less prep than say 3.5/PF games, and far less consumption of splatbooks.

  20. < ![CDATA[Brand has the right of it (though I too am a mostly 3rd edition player). The core book is plenty enough to do stuff, and the region books are only really there if you don't want to make up your own stuff and want some juicy region stuff to kick off or reach into, but you really don't even want past your home region. The book LOOKS intimidating, but it's actually not that bad. The sections are pretty well separated, and as with a lot of big "tome" games there's a lot of fluff, art and examples. Each section has some crunch (this is research, this is seasons, this is casting) but it's bite sized and understandable. It looks a lot more intimidating than it is. I find it requires far less prep than say 3.5/PF games, and far less consumption of splatbooks.]]>

  21. Every so often I want to pull out a setting heavy game. My answer: curate. Curate and cut down to the small section the players need to be familiar with, get it down to 2-3 pages and type that up for them. I don’t know if you’ve seen the sort of small handouts Ron Edwards has been putting together for various games the last few years? That kind of thing.

  22. < ![CDATA[Every so often I want to pull out a setting heavy game. My answer: curate. Curate and cut down to the small section the players need to be familiar with, get it down to 2-3 pages and type that up for them. I don't know if you've seen the sort of small handouts Ron Edwards has been putting together for various games the last few years? That kind of thing.]]>

  23. I still dream of running ArsM. If I did, I think I’d just use the 2nd Edition core book, Covenants book, and Order of Hermes book AND THAT’S IT.

    That old Covenants book does a good job of answering “what do you do?” because the Convenant starts with a bunch of immediate problems and flaws.

    But I bet after 4 sessions I’d get annoyed and try and convert it to Burning Wheel or something.

  24. < ![CDATA[I still dream of running ArsM. If I did, I think I'd just use the 2nd Edition core book, Covenants book, and Order of Hermes book AND THAT'S IT. That old Covenants book does a good job of answering "what do you do?" because the Convenant starts with a bunch of immediate problems and flaws. But I bet after 4 sessions I'd get annoyed and try and convert it to Burning Wheel or something.]]>

  25. As a writer for the former line, I would say there are maybe three books I want to have at the table all the time, possibly four:

    The core rules (because rules)
    Realms of Power: Magic, Realms of Power:Faerie (more for the pregenerated creatures in each one that I would want to crib for off the cuff interaction than rules. No, there is no bestiary, but the power levels can vary so much, that a fantastical bestiary is a non-trivial task)
    The Tribunal Book for the Tribunal you’re playing in, if one exists, and they exist for them all, but some only in earlier editions. (for sites, NPCs, reference)

    Otherwise, the players might have the Houses of Hermes books for their characters, but they don’t need them on hand all the time, except maybe for some House trivia stuff, if they’re into that and want it, but then they’d want it.

    Otherwise, it’s a great game of troupe style play and discussion, where there are shared characters (the covenant, some grogs) and multiple characters per player, and multiple story lines, and a lot of room to do a lot of things. Different realms– Infernal, Divine, Faerie, Magic, all allow for travel without travel as they overlay the real world.

    Sure, you can get into more books if you want, but you don’t need them. Want a more “find ancient treasures” game? Get Ancient Magic, want to really delve into some strange secret societies? Get Mystery Cults, but these aren’t required to run the game– which revolves around a mechanic of:

    Characteristic + Ability + d10 + Modifiers vs an Ease Factor, where 9 is an average target.

    For magic, Ability is replaced by (Technique+Form), and there are guidelines for setting the Ease Factor for various spells, adjusted by the Range, Target, and Duration. That’s the one place where I’d love a playmat to put all of that on the table for a quick reference, but really, that’s the mechanic and all other mechanics will use a variant of it in some way. If you remember that, you’re in business.

    The rest of it comes down to how fantastic or historic you want your Mythic Europe to be and what kind of stories you want to tell– and remember, the virtues you pick are the stories you know about, while the flaws are the stories you want to be surprised with during play.

    I also help run the fanzine, so if you see something from there you absolutely want to check out, I can see about making that happen.

  26. < ![CDATA[As a writer for the former line, I would say there are maybe three books I want to have at the table all the time, possibly four: The core rules (because rules) Realms of Power: Magic, Realms of Power:Faerie (more for the pregenerated creatures in each one that I would want to crib for off the cuff interaction than rules. No, there is no bestiary, but the power levels can vary so much, that a fantastical bestiary is a non-trivial task) The Tribunal Book for the Tribunal you're playing in, if one exists, and they exist for them all, but some only in earlier editions. (for sites, NPCs, reference) Otherwise, the players might have the Houses of Hermes books for their characters, but they don't need them on hand all the time, except maybe for some House trivia stuff, if they're into that and want it, but then they'd want it.
    Otherwise, it’s a great game of troupe style play and discussion, where there are shared characters (the covenant, some grogs) and multiple characters per player, and multiple story lines, and a lot of room to do a lot of things. Different realms– Infernal, Divine, Faerie, Magic, all allow for travel without travel as they overlay the real world.
    Sure, you can get into more books if you want, but you don’t need them. Want a more “find ancient treasures” game? Get Ancient Magic, want to really delve into some strange secret societies? Get Mystery Cults, but these aren’t required to run the game– which revolves around a mechanic of:
    Characteristic + Ability + d10 + Modifiers vs an Ease Factor, where 9 is an average target.
    For magic, Ability is replaced by (Technique+Form), and there are guidelines for setting the Ease Factor for various spells, adjusted by the Range, Target, and Duration. That’s the one place where I’d love a playmat to put all of that on the table for a quick reference, but really, that’s the mechanic and all other mechanics will use a variant of it in some way. If you remember that, you’re in business.
    The rest of it comes down to how fantastic or historic you want your Mythic Europe to be and what kind of stories you want to tell– and remember, the virtues you pick are the stories you know about, while the flaws are the stories you want to be surprised with during play.
    I also help run the fanzine, so if you see something from there you absolutely want to check out, I can see about making that happen.]]>