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Ars Magica

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Ars Magica (abbreviated ArM) is a tabletop fantasy role-playing game centered on wizards and magic.

What Is Ars Magica?[edit]

Ars Magica is a fantasy role-playing game currently published by Atlas Games. It has many features in common with other such games, and many unique features that distinguish it from the crowd. Ars Magica is a game about wizards and magic, and the characters who must deal with them, and is set in a world very similar to Medieval Europe.

The following was formerly the introduction to the "World of Ars Magica" section of the Atlas Games Web Site. (The introduction to Ars Magica has subsequently been rewritten.)

The Art of Magic[edit]

Come to a land of adventure and mystery, of falling empires and rising nations, of legendary creatures and incredible myths.

This is Ars Magica's Mythic Europe, where the power of magic is real and exists alongside historical figures and locations.

Stories revolve around the covenant: one part mystical college, one part magical laboratory, one part wizard's fortress, one part bastion of secrecy.

Your Role: Grog, Companion, Magus[edit]

You'll take many roles. At times, you may be a grog, a stalwart guard of the covenant, well-paid for your labors with a life far more exciting than that of the common folk. At other times, you may be a companion, a respected friend of the covenant, using your professional skills for a share of the glory and the reward. You'll also take on the role of a magus, a wizard of legendary power, a leader of the covenant, a member of one of the Houses of Hermes. With each role you play, however, you have knowledge few others possess. You know of Ars Magica, the art of magic.

A Magical Game[edit]

The first edition of Ars Magica set the benchmark for magic in fantasy roleplaying. It pioneered the storytelling style of roleplaying that has become so popular today. Its setting, Mythic Europe, sparked the imaginations of fantasy fans and history enthusiasts alike.

The Fifth Edition is rewritten to improve the rules for existing players, and to be more attractive and accessible to new audiences. It features all-new graphic design, two-color interior printing, [and] hardcover binding...

Ars Magica won the Gamer's Choice Award for Best Fantasy Roleplaying Game of 1988; the Fourth Edition was nominated for the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Rules of 1996.

Major Features[edit]

Ars Magica is strongly centered on wizards, who are called magi in the game world. Other characters -- grogs and companions -- exist, but they are explicitly less powerful than wizards. The wizards are usually the primary characters who drive the plot.

Fictional Magic[edit]

Ars Magica is Latin for "The Art Magical" or "The Magical Art" (not "The Art of Magic," whatever the cover of the rulebook may lead you to believe). It is a game, and contains no information about any magic that is purported to be real. It will not teach you anything about magic or occult practices, no matter how dedicated to the game you become.

Superb Magic System[edit]

At the heart of the Ars Magica rules is the magic system. This is generally regarded as the best magic system in any RPG because of its flexibility.

A wizard in the game are called a magus (plural, magi). Magi learn magical Arts, of which there are fifteen. Five are Techniques -- creation, for example -- which determine the action the magic performs, while the other ten are Forms such as mind and fire, which determine what it acts upon. The wizard's ability to cast a spell is calculated by adding together the scores in the appropriate Technique and Form.

The game provides detailed guidelines for what can be done with the various Technique and Form combinations at different levels of power, so that it is fairly easy for the Storyguide to adjudicate the effect of a spontaneous spell.

Magi can cast formulaic spells, which have defined effects, or spontaneous magic, which does whatever the magus wants, if he is powerful enough. Spontaneous magic is much more flexible than formulaic, but also weaker.

Ars Magica emphasizes the wizard's personal quest to master the Art of magic. There are detailed rules not only for the things a wizard does while out on adventures, but also for for magical study and research. Magi can improve their Arts, invent new spells, create magical items, train apprentices, and bind familiars.

A Mythic World[edit]

The setting of Ars Magica (called Mythic Europe) is perhaps its second drawing point. It is closely based on historical 13th century Europe: the same kings rule and the same towns and cities dot the landscape. However, the setting also puts a lot of emphasis on fantastic elements. Most of these are adaptations of real-world myths and legends, such as saints, angels, demons, local legends about healing fountains, and so on. There are also original fantasy elements woven out of whole cloth -- for example, the Enigmatic Order of Hermes, the magical society to which all wizards belong.

Since most fantasy fiction is loosely based on medieval society, Mythic Europe seems familiar to anyone who knows the genre. It is perfectly possible to downplay the historical details and concentrate on the magic and fantasy. Players can rewrite history to have an original, fictional King of England, for example -- perhaps one who is also a werewolf! -- but on the other hand, they can obtain ready-made maps of the realm from a historical atlas if they don't want to create their own. Contrariwise, some players revel in the historical details of Ars Magica and think of it as a historical game (the presence of wizards notwithstanding).

The setting is therefore quite flexible, supporting everything from a low-magic game about medieval Europe to a high-fantasy game only loosely set against a pseudo-medieval Europe. Ars Magica sagas can concentrate on the politics of the Order, the non-wizard society of Medieval Europe, or the fantastic creatures in the wilderness, depending on the interests of the players. They can be epics spanning decades, or cover a single year. To a great extent, as with all RPGs, the game is what you make of it.

The Order of Hermes[edit]

Magi belong to their own pan-European society called the Order of Hermes. The Order has its own law, known as the Code of Hermes, nominally to keep the peace among wizards. The Order of Hermes governs itself in democratic fashion, somewhat like the ancient Roman Republic. The political affairs of the Order provide ample opportunity for stories of intrigue, if the players are so inclined.

The Order is sub-divided into twelve Houses of Hermes, each descended (via apprenticeship, not blood) from one original Founder. In 1220, the date of a nominal Ars Magica saga, each House has grown to include dozens of members and is quite diverse. None the less, the Houses are institutions unto themselves. Members of the same House tend to share some common elements in their magical powers, political aims, or philosophy.


The central "character" in a standard game of Ars Magica is the covenant. This is both the place where most of the characters live, and a term for all the people who live there. Some of the inhabitants are magi, powerful wizards, others are companions, skilled individuals, generally without magical power, and the rest are grogs and covenfolk, the guards and servants.

The covenant can survive the death or departure of any member, and its development over the course of the game (the "Saga") is a central theme. The covenant provides a reason for all the characters to stay together, and a motivation for them to work together. It also provides an easy way for the player running the game (the "Storyguide") to get the characters involved in a story, since anything that threatens the covenant will concern all of them.

Magi usually, but do not always, form alliances called covenants for convenience and mutual protection. A covenant can consist of two to about twenty wizards who live near one another. Very often, all the magi of a covenant live together in a lonely tower, a village in the midst of an enchanted wood, or a sprawling, haunted castle. With the magi live their servants and a few talented experts who aid them in their studies and adventures.

The covenant also lends itself to troupe style play.

Other Features[edit]

Ars Magica has a few other features that are different from most other role-playing games, but aren't as fundamental as the magic system and the setting.

Long-running Sagas[edit]

Ars Magica treats adventures as rare and remarkable events. Between adventures, magi pursue their studies and, slowly but surely, advance in power. Other characters practice their trade, learn from teachers, read books, and so on, improving their skills over years and decades. The game is thus more "realistic" in this sense, and encourages long-duration sagas that span decades. Wizards, in particular, enjoy great longevity, and may thus achieve great skill in the magical Arts (or some other, more "mundane", skills, if they invest in learning them). They typically spend much of their time learning magical Arts, inventing new spells, enchanting magic items, and so on.

Troupe Style Play[edit]

While in most roleplaying games each player controls a single character, Ars Magica encourages troupe style play where each player plays different character(s) in different adventures or game sessions. Each player typically has one main, wizard, character, but also one Companion character that plays the role of the supporting-cast and that can often be played on adventures the main (wizard) character does not participate in. Background characters (called Grogs) are often played jointly by the group as a whole, or are taken on as extra (often, multiple) characters by a player. A typical Ars Magica adventure will thus feature one or two wizards, accompanied by a few companions and a small entorouge of grogs. Each player will control one or more grogs, although he will probably also have a companion or wizard character that will be more pivotal to the story (or, at least, to the saga as a whole).


Combat in Ars Magica is deadly and fairly abstract. Like many roleplaying games, combat is divided into combat "rounds" where each character gets to act on its turn in the round. There are no clear movement rules (see the FAQ entry, Movement), however, and what a character can precisely do on its turn is left somewhat vague. Combat skills are focused on broad technique (such as Single Weapon), are used both to hit and to avoid being hit. Characters may defend other characters, and groups may act jointly and enjoy benefits if properly led and trained to act as a group. Characters' wounds penalize actions, generally leading to a death spiral, and can often be deadly very quickly. Wound recovery without magic is slow and dangerous, as wounds can actually become worse in time. While magic can be used to provide quick and safe healing, this is expensive (requiring vis, a rare commodity) so will not often be used.

Simulation and Narration[edit]

The rules for long-term advancement, laboratory work (such as inventing new spells), and in some respects combat are "simulationist", encouraging a 'realistic' perspective and tinkering with their baroque options. In many other ways, however, Ars Magica encourages a more "narrativist" approach to the game. For example, characters receive Flaw-points (see Virtues and Flaws) in return to providing story hooks (see Story Flaw), and design their covenant on the basis of the kind of stories they want to tell. Overall, the game generally allows "simulationist" and rules lawyering in the down-time between adventures, but incorporates significant "narrativist" elements in the rules framing saga, adventure, and character design and, to some extent, which often bear on the sessions themselves.

Editions of Ars Magica[edit]

The current edition of Ars Magica is Ars Magica Fifth Edition. There have been five editions of Ars Magica to date. Each shares the general features described in this article, but differs in details of the rules and their presentation. Characters, spells, and other game material are broadly similar, not fully compatible from one edition to another. There are also minor differences in the setting between editions.

See Also[edit]


  1. ISBN-13 978-2-35112-029-3, by Ludopathes
  4. Ludopathes Boutique, Ars Magica 5eme category; accessed in 2014-Sep-14
  5. Sociedade dos RPGistas Mortos: "Forgotten books: Ars Magica - Parte 5"; acessed in 2014-Sep-14
  6. ZBCast, "Ars Mágica (Vol. V)", post from 2012-Jan-7; acessed in 2014-Sep-14
  7. ISBN-10 963-85914-1-2, 315 pages, 1998, edited by Beneficium Kiadó of Budapest. Source:, accessed in 2014-Sep-14

Legacy Page[edit]

The history of this page before August 6, 2010 is archived at Legacy:ars_magica

Copyright Notice[edit]

This page contains material originally © 1997 by David Chart and ©Copyright 1998-2004 Trident Inc. Those sections of texts are used with permission.