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Ars Magica Fifth Edition

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(This page is about the Fifth Edition core rules. For a complete list of Fifth Edition books and supplements, go here.)

Ars Magica Fifth Edition
Cover illustration for Ars Magica Fifth Edition
Product Information
Rules Edition: Fifth
Abbreviation: ArM5
Product Type: core rules
Author(s): David Chart
Publisher: Atlas Games
Product Number: AG0205
ISBN: 1-58978-070-1
Release date: November 2004
Format: Hardcover, 240 pages
Availability: In print, PDF available

Ars Magica Fifth Edition logo

Ars Magica Fifth Edition is the current edition of the game. With the publication of Legends of Hermes in June 2011, it also became the largest: the edition with the greatest number of supplements.[1]

The publisher, Atlas Games, provides extensive information on the Ars Magica line on their web site.

David Chart is the Line Editor for the 5th Edition product line and the author of the core rule book.

Errata[edit]

As with any complicated set of rules or instructions, there are a few mistakes that made it through the editing and proofreading process. The official list errata for all ArM5 products is available from the Atlas Games Web site.

See also the article: Errata.

Differences Between Fifth Edition and Fourth Edition[edit]

by Andrew Gronosky and Steve Saunders. Additional thanks: Erik Tyrell

Fifth Edition is similar to Ars Magica Fourth Edition in many respects, but with some important differences.

The official Fifth Edition Web page has some design notes from the author of Fifth Edition (see the "Downloads" box in the right-hand column on that page). They explain several design changes between Fourth and Fifth Edition, in more detail than we can.

The Big Picture[edit]

The Appendix to Fifth Edition probably says it best: there are two viable answers to the question of what is different between Fourth and Fifth Editions. The first is "nothing has changed." The second is "everything has changed."

"Nothing has changed" in that, if one had to describe Fifth Edition in 500 words or less, that description would be unchanged between editions.

"Everything has changed" in that almost all of the rules have received some revision. Just about every line or box on a character sheet has been affected by the changes, and probably every page of ArM5 rules has mechanical differences from the ArM4 rule.

Detailed discussion of the changes will proceed chapter-by-chapter. Even the chapter structure has changed between Fourth and Fifth Editions; I will follow the structure of the Fourth Edition book on the assumption that the people most interested in this question have seen Fourth Edition, but not Fifth. (Fourth Edition is available as a free download.)

Introduction[edit]

The story about Antoninus of Jerbiton has been replaced with a much shorter introductory piece.

There are no quality dice in ArM5, only stress dice and simple dice. It is possible in ArM5 to have a stress die with zero botch dice, and this is what is used on the rare occasions when a quality die was called for in ArM4.

Character Creation[edit]

See also: Character generation

One set of design notes covers the Fifth Edition character creation process.

Characters are still constructed the same way; a concept, followed by Virtues and Flaws, Characteristics, Abilities, and, for magi, Arts and spells.

There's no dice-rolling method for creating characters in Fifth Edition; point-based purchase of Characteristics is the only option, though new Virtues and Flaws can increase or decrease the number of points available.

Abilities (skills) and Arts (magic) are now drawn from the same pool of points, both at character-creation time and as experienced PC's advance (though advancement points are usually specific to the source of learning). Abilities cost five times as much as Arts. Magi now have more flexibility in how they allocate points between Abilities and Arts.

The ArM5 template characters (once the errata are included) are completely legal - unlike the ArM4 templates. These may be useful to new players and/or SG's.

Houses are now split into three kinds: "True Lineages" (which are the same as in ArM4), consisting of Bonisagus, Guernicus, Mercere, and Tremere; "Mystery Cults" (as per ArM4's The Mysteries), consisting of Bjornaer, Criamon, Merinita, & Verditius; "Societates" (groups of like-minded magi), consisting of Houses Flambeau, Jerbiton, Ex Miscellanea, and Tytalus. Each kind of House is getting a separate "Houses of Hermes" book.

Probably the biggest difference is in Virtues and Flaws. Each Virtue or Flaw has been changed to have only one of two costs - Major or Minor, at 3 or 1 point, respectively. Magi and Companions are still built on up to ± 10 points, and Grogs on up to ± 3 points. Grogs may only have Minor Virtues or Flaws.

Two new categories of Virtues and Flaws are introduced in ArM5 - Personality Flaws and Story Flaws. Characters are limited to two personality Flaws and at most one Story Flaw; grogs may not have Story Flaws at all.

Some former Virtues are now Flaws. The key factor in seemingly-advantageous "Flaws" (such as the former Virtues) is that each represents a story hook the PC must take if it's presented by the SG (e.g. your Faerie Friend has been summoned to Arcadia, and your PC must deal with that, either resisting the summons or going with), rather than a bought-at-creation advantage the SG should leave intact.

Hermetic Magic[edit]

The big change is in how Penetration works. Penetration in ArM5 is calculated as (casting total + bonuses - spell level), meaning that one has a higher Penetration with low-level spells than with high-level spells. The effect of this is to greatly strengthen Magic Resistance, including Parma Magica. It also helps make the game challenging for experienced magi, who may be able to cast high-level spells, but will still have low Penetration with them.

There are new rules about how having an Arcane Connection to the target can improve one's Penetration.

The scope of the individual Arts has been changed, causing some spells to change Arts. This mostly affects the Techniques of Rego, Muto, and Perdo.

Magi in Fifth Edition gain a generalized "Form bonus" equal to (Art / 5). This bonus applies to Soak totals and other rolls to resist attacks from that Form. This rule was not present in Fourth Edition but it is similar to something that existed in earlier editions.

The Limits of Magic are explained in more detail and, some would say, more clearly.

The social effects of The Gift are explained differently in Fifth Edition than in Fourth.

It is no longer possible in ArM5 to use vis to extend the range, duration, or target of a spell. Spells with permanent effects, such as a spell that permanently heals a wound, must be rituals. However, a new kind of healing magic has been introduced: spells that grant a bonus to wound recovery rolls while they are in effect.

Spontaneous Spells always use a stress die in ArM5 if the caster exerts himself (spends a Fatigue level). Non-exerting spontaneous spells do not involve a die roll at all any more. It is possible to get a bonus to spontaneous spells through "Ceremonial Casting," which is a slow process kind of like a ritual, but without the need for vis.

In ArM5, most spells, including Pilum of Fire, automatically hit their targets. The only spells that require an Aiming Roll (the ArM5 term for what was once called a "Targeting Roll") are spells that affect their targets indirectly, for example, by opening a pit under a person's feet so he falls in.

Magic Resistance works a little differently in ArM5 than it did in previous editions. In a nutshell, magic resistance categorically keeps out magic, including enchanted objects (flaming swords and the like). Magic resistance remains a controversial topic of discussion online, but (unlike past editions) most of the controversy is not over how the rules are supposed to work: it's about the so-called "Pink Dot Loophole" and house rules that might resolve it.

Spell Mastery now relies on Abilities (skills), each representing mastery of one spell. When a magus attains a new level in a mastery ability for a given spell, he gets to choose a special trick or power (like multi-casting or getting a bonus to cast without words) for that particular spell.

ArM4-style spell foci, which were little props that gave a bonus to the casting roll, have been dropped from the ArM5 basic rules.

Casting from a text is not mentioned in the ArM5 basic rules.

Certamen has been rewritten in both mechanical and legal terms. There is no specific Certamen skill any more. The certamen rules more strongly parallel the regular combat system. The social conventions surrounding certamen have been revised to make it harder to abuse certamen to bully weaker magi, and the method for choosing the Arts involved has been changed to make narrowly-specialized magi less dominant in certamen. On the other hand, many more Certamen options are now given in the Tremere section of Houses of Hermes: True Lineages.

Laboratory[edit]

There are design notes describing the changes in the laboratory rules. We have nothing to add to what is said there.

Spells[edit]

Some significant changes here. First, as has been mentioned already, Formulaic spells can no longer be boosted with vis. If you want the spell to last a year, in ArM5 you have to design it to last a year, meaning it must be a Ritual.

There are no permanent spells in ArM5. The ways to work around that are to use an enchanted item (with a continuous effect) instead, or to design Ring/Circle spells and cast them on a circle that is carved in stone (those would be "almost" permanent).

The range categories for spells have been changed. Spells can be either Personal (caster only), Touch, Voice, Sight, or Arcane Connection. There is no longer any such category as Near or Far. The Voice category is generally a replacement for Near, and takes a little getting used to. A Voice-range spell extends as far as the caster's voice can be heard, which can be a long way if he is yodeling from a mountaintop or a very short distance if he is whispering in a hurricane. Spells that work well when cast silently should be Touch or Sight range; a Voice-range spell cast with no voice at all can only affect the caster - even if the caster has the "Silent Magic" Virtue.

The there is a set of design notes describing the changes to the spell rules in more detail.

Combat[edit]

As is traditional, the combat rules have been rewritten from scratch with the new edition. The designer's notes discuss the changes in broad detail.

One key difference is that "Trained groups" now have a big advantage over a mob of individuals; for comparably-skilled combatants, a trained group has an overwhelming advantage.

ArM5 does not use "Body Levels" to track Wounds. Instead, wounds are recorded individually and each has its own severity rating. It is not possible to kill a character by inflicting only Light Wounds; a character who took 10 Light Wounds would be badly impaired (-10 to all rolls) but would not (immediately) die. On the other hand, there is no equivalent to the "Hurt" Body Level - every wound in ArM5 causes at least a -1 penalty.

Down Time[edit]

The rules for "down time" (when characters are not in the lab or going on adventures) are given their own chapter in ArM5, called "Long-Term Events." The changes are relatively minor.

Long-term Fatigue exists in ArM5. This is the same as in Third Edition - it's back. Casting ritual spells can cause long-term Fatigue loss.

The new wound rules in the combat chapter dictate new mechanics for wound recovery, but the basic idea is the same: make a Stamina roll after a certain period of time to see if your wounds improve. ArM5 makes clear what characters can and can't do when they are wounded, and what happens if they try to do something their wounds normally prevent (they have to make a Stamina check to see if their wounds actually get worse). Wound Penalties do not apply to recovery rolls.

The aging rules have been revised. ArM4's "afflictions" are gone; aging "points" accumulate on each Characteristic like "anti"-experience points, decreasing the Characteristic. The total of all aging points determines Decrepitude: PC's with Decrepitude scores of 4 are too frail for most adventuring; those with Decrepitude 5 are on their death beds. ArM5 introduces the aging "crisis," which can potentially kill a character outright.

Rules for experience and advancement have been standardized. Arts and Abilities cost different amounts to improve (at a 1:5 ratio), but the same experience point (if it comes from a generic source of XP's) can be applied to an Art or an Ability. Also, ArM5 explicitly allows adventuring experience points to be spent on Arts.

The book rules have changed a little. For those familiar with ArM4, there are now only two kinds of books instead of three: tractatus and summae (libri quaestionem are gone). New, detailed book rules are given in the Covenants supplement.

ArM5 adds explicit rules for "learning by doing," gaining experience points through Exposure.

Studying from vis has been totally nerfed in ArM5, yielding generally fewer XP than what one can gain from books.

There are new rules for "Warping," the negative effects of exposure to strong Auras or supernatural effects. For magi, Warping is the same thing as Twilight Points. Non-magi gain Flaws (and, occasionally, Virtues) as their Warping score increases.

Covenants[edit]

ArM5 includes simplified covenant-creation rules in the main rule book. There is less emphasis on point values for everything: only the library and magic items have to be purchased with a point budget. Covenants in ArM5 have Boons and Hooks, which work for covenants much like Virtues and Flaws work for characters.

There is an ArM5 supplement called Covenants which expands a great deal on the concepts in the core book.

Mythic Europe[edit]

ArM5 includes more-specific advice on how to take advantage of the Mythic Europe setting to create unique and interesting stories.

Several issues about the setting are explicitly level up to players to decide for themselves: the level of historical accuracy, the level of organization / enforcement in the Order, how the Church will be portrayed, the level of demonic influence in Mythic Europe, and the ultimate fate of magic.

Realms[edit]

ArM5 makes clear the difference between the Magical and Faerie Realms. Supplements seem to have resisted the ArM4 tendency to move everything interesting into the Faerie Realm.

The Dominion penalties on magic use are much stronger than in ArM4. Player characters actually have to worry about them.

Bestiary[edit]

The ArM5 bestiary is shorter and omits mention of mundane animals. After ArM5 was published, the ArM5 Book of Mundane Beasts was released as a free PDF download.

Continuity[edit]

With Fifth Edition, the Line Editor made an explicit decision to disregard existing canon and start anew. Most of the major elements remain the same – there are still twelve Houses and thirteen Tribunals – but many of the details have been heavily rewritten. The important point is that the canon of Fifth Edition is self-contained, and there is no need to obtain out-of-print books to understand the Order of Hermes and Mythic Europe.

As with any major change to a shared world, this has met with mixed responses from the Fan Community.

See the timeline of Fifth Edition canon for an overview of the major events.

Tribunal Books from Previous Editions[edit]

This raises a question whether older supplements (for ArM4 and earlier) are still useful for the game. Rule-intensive supplements like the Wizard's Grimoire probably are of interest only to collectors; for more setting-related supplements like Tribunal books, the answer is more ambiguous. It depends on what you want to use them for. As background material, sourcebooks on characters and covenants, and sources of maps and story hooks, they're definitely still useful. However, the actual stats of the characters and creatures in those books are rather obsolete. ArM5 rebuilt the study/advancement rules and the combat rules from the ground up, so stats that were sensible for Third or Fourth Edition are totally out of whack for Fifth.

A few of the rule changes in Fifth Edition have possible repercussions for the setting. For instance, it is now officially pretty easy to make money using magic, and Tribunals of Hermes: Rome (written for Third Edition) puts a great deal of emphasis on the commercial enterprises and money-making schemes of the various covenants. This no longer makes a lot of sense - magi could just cast Touch of Midas and get 80 pounds of gold. Another change is that the boundary between the Magic and Faerie Realms has been re-drawn in Fifth Edition, with the result that a lot of creatures in the old Tribunal books are now mis-classified as Faerie when they should be Magic.

John Nephew has said that there are no plans to reprint or rewrite any of the old Tribunal books, so those supplements will not be directly superseded any time soon. The bottom line is that the sourcebooks are still very useful sources of settings and ideas, but are no longer much good as sources of ready-made NPC stats unless you choose to play an older edition of Ars Magica (you can do that, you know).

Frequently-Asked Questions[edit]

Why has (rule X) been removed from Fifth Edition?
A: Many of the popular rules from Fourth Edition - laboratory customization, Hermetic breakthroughs, mystery cults, advanced combat rules, and so on - are being revised and updated for Fifth Edition as the relevant supplements are released. Just because something was omitted from the core book, doesn't mean it doesn't exist anywhere. Keep an eye on the upcoming products from Atlas Games.
One of the reasons the fan community built and maintains this site is to help people find the information they're looking for. Try using the Search function on this site; it may be that the material you're looking for does exist in some book you don't have yet.
Many of the rules that people say were "left out" were not found in the Fourth Edition rule book, either. They came from one of the many Fourth Edition supplements. It's not realistic to expect a single 240-page rule book to include a full set of basic rules plus the "best of" several dozen ArM4 supplements. Most of the Canon doesn't fit in the core book and can be found in other Products.
--Andrew Gronosky
Why was (X) changed in (new edition/new supplement)?
The full form of this question is usually along the lines, Why was (X) changed in (new edition/new supplement)? I liked it better before, and can see no reason for the change. What was the author thinking?
Answer: It seemed like a good idea at the time.
If you're unhappy about something, by all means feel free to express your sentiments; however, you should not expect the author(s) or editor to personally answer your complaints. They might not want to. Arguing with fans is not fun.
This is not to say that authors don't listen to feedback. In my experience, they do. Obviously, you'll get farther with polite and well-reasoned criticism than with a mad tirade.
--Andrew Gronosky
Will there be free conversions of 4th Edition books to 5th Edition?
Revised editions of several of the most popular ArM4 supplements are already on the Atlas Games Product list. As to the others, John Nephew has said there are no plans for official conversion stats for any Fourth Edition (or earlier) supplement. You can always do an unofficial conversion yourself.
Think of it this way. Atlas games would have to pay someone would to do all that conversion work, and that would draw both money and author talent away from developing new Ars Magica material. It doesn't make good business sense for Atlas Games to pay authors to update out-of-print supplements instead of developing new products.

Awards[edit]

Ars Magica won two ENNie awards in 2005:

  • Best rules, Gold winner
  • Best production values, Silver winner
  • Best interior art, Honorable mention

Related Pages[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Atlas Games discussion forum, "Fifth Edition is now larger than fourth", http://forum.atlas-games.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=7323&p=103286&hilit=largest+edition#p103286, June 2, 2011

Legacy Page[edit]

The history of this page before July 21, 2012 is located at Legacy:fifth_edition.