Project: Redcap; the crossroads of the Order


Ars Magica Third Edition

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The Third Edition of Ars Magica (abbreviated ArM3) was published in 1992 by White Wolf.

Ars Magica Third Edition
Cover illustration for Ars Magica Third Edition
Product Information
Rules Edition: Third
Abbreviation: ArM3
Product Type: core rules
Author(s): Ken Cliffe, Mark Rein·Hagen
Publisher: White Wolf
Product Number: ??
ISBN: First Printing (White Wolf):
ISBN-10 156504021X
ISBN-13 9781565040212

Second Printing (Wizards of the Coast):
ISBN-10 188099240X
ISBN-13 9781880992401
Release date: 1992
Format: Softcover, 392 pages
Availability: Out of print

Subject and Contents[edit]

Third Edition has the largest page count of any edition of the core book, at 392 pages.

Third Edition is important historically because much of the canon was first established in supplements written when it was current.

Since Third Edition was published by White Wolf, certain aspects of the setting were designed to be consistent with White Wolf's World of Darkness. This explains such features as True Reason and the vampires in House Tremere.

Third Edition also introduced a kind of Virtue called a "Passion," which was something like a Personality Trait that could grant benefits similar to Confidence when the character's specific Passion was aroused. For example, a character with a Passion for Honor would gain benefits when attempting to exercise or defend his personal honor.

Comparison with Other Editions[edit]

by Lydia Leong

I do want to bring up the most important difference between the two editions: the Second Edition is concise and the writing is fairly reasonable. The 3rd edition is verbose and the editing is amazingly poor. The 3rd edition smacks of, "paid by the word", and the sheer amount of excess text is mind-boggling. I strongly encourage the people working on the 4th edition to not repeat 3rd edition verbatim, but to actually rewrite the paragraphs involved. Even if no real material is actually cut, simply trimming down the writing style would eliminate countless pages of text.

I also want to note that I think the Introduction to the 2nd edition is a lot better than the 3rd, and that first page of ArM 2 is a lot more effective in conveying the essence of the world than the first bits of gray text in ArM 3.

Nonetheless, here we go with the diffs between the editions; this might not be a complete list, but I hope it's relatively thorough. The order follows the order of presentation in the 2nd edition book. Do note that there's a lot of stuff added to the 3rd edition which isn't in the 2nd edition at all. I may get flamed for this statement, but given the sheer number of changes to even the basic rules, I think that claims of the One True Edition are a bit hard to make (at least given the fact that most of the people on the mailing lists apparently use the 3rd edition rulings, and add some things out of 2nd, like vis extraction).

Below, when referring to location in the rulebook, something like, "xC yP" refers to x column, y paragraph (i.e., "2C 3P" is the 2nd column 3rd paragraph). Items in quotation marks are actual quotes; everything else is my own commentary. I have only put citations in places where the rule might be difficult to locate.

I've noted places where I, personally, think the ArM 2 rule is better, and also thrown in a few general suggestions for 4th edition.

Character Creation[edit]

ArM 2, p. 14, 1C 2P: if you have a powerful mystical ability, you also suffer the -3 to social stuff that the magi do. (Presumably this refers to Exceptional Talents. 3rd edition has the -1 Flaw Magical Air instead.)

Beginning age: This is randomized in ArM 2, and chosen in ArM 3. It would be useful for good starting ages to be noted; particularly, ages should be noted for beginning magi (since your apprenticeship begins between age 7 and 17, and lasts 15 years).

Characteristics: Pairs have to be balanced in ArM 2 (the two characteristics in a pair have to be within 1 of each other), but not in ArM 3. (ArM 1 required the pair balance within 3 of each other.)

The Gift: ArM 2 imposes the -3 penalty on social interaction which involves people trusting you; ArM 3 imposes this on all rolls involving interacting with normal people (Presence and Communication).

Virtues and Flaws: Companions and Magi both get 7 points in ArM 2 (magi get 10 in ArM 3). Grogs only get 1 point in ArM 2 (as opposed to 3 in ArM 3). The V&Fs themselves have changed pretty substantially. I don't like the organization in either edition; it'd be nice to have a table summarizing V&Fs by cost, and then break them down in the same way ArM 3 does -- but PLEASE LIST THEM ALPHABETICALLY within each section (I've found it immensely frustrating to know a flaw name, cost, and section it appears in, only to not be able to rapidly locate it within that section).

Character Templates: the short little blurb templates in ArM 2 (p. 34, 35) are a lot better than the full templates in ArM 3. The "instant grog" (ArM 2, p. 22) is also a nice touch. They don't take up much space; I wish they'd appear in ArM 4. (What's badly needed, IMHO, is a list of typical V&Fs for each House of the Order, since this information was, by and large, left out in Houses of Hermes (book).)


Eeveryone in ArM 3 begins with 3 Confidence Points; in ArM 2, it's 3, 2, and 1 for Magi, Companions, and Grogs, respectively. The Confidence rules are completely different. To quickly summarize:

In ArM 2, you can declare use of X points of Cnf BEFORE making a stress roll, and add the number of points to the roll. If you make the roll, you keep the points. If you roll the Ease Factor exactly, you make a simple roll; if the roll if higher than your maximum Cnf (i.e., what you had before spending any temporarily), then you permanently gain 1 Cnf. If you fail, you lose the spent points for the duration of the story (or until the SG says otherwise, basically). If you botch, you lose 1 Cnf permanently; you always have at least 1 Cnf, though. There are also special rules for using Cnf on Personality Rolls.

In ArM 3, you can declare that you are spending a Confidence Point, after a failed stress roll. You then get a reroll. If you make the roll, you keep the point. If you fail it, you lose it for the duration of the story. If you botch it, you lose the point permanently. You cannot use Confidence more than once per action. Confidence can also be spent on Passions (different rules). Gaining Confidence can only be done via StoryGuide fiat. There is no stated minimum for Confidence points.

Reputations: these rules have increased in complexity in ArM 3; notable is the stress roll that is sometimes involved in losing Reputation.


In ArM 2, Grogs get their age + 10 in initial XP to spend; in ArM 3, Grogs get their age * 2 (same as Companions).

In ArM 2, Abilities can be reduced below 0 (to a minimum of -3), for the gain of 1 point per point reduced. However, to buy a negative ability up is "normal"; i.e., to go from -3 to -2 costs 3 points.

ArM 2 also says things like, "Drop all fractions." It'd be nice to have a consistent rounding scheme, which apparently doesn't exist in ArM 3.

The abilities themselves have been modified in various ways.

Penalties for using abilities you don't have:

Talents: ArM 2, roll normally. ArM 3, roll but with 3 extra Botch Dice.

Skills: ArM 2, penalty of -2 to -8, and/or 1-3 extra Botch Dice (decision of the StoryGuide, presumably). ArM 3, penalty of -3 and 3 extra Botch Dice.

Formal/Arcane Knowledges: can't do it, both editions.

Casual Knowledges: ArM 2, penalty of -3 to -10. ArM 3, roll normally.

The "roll manipulation" stuff is only in ArM 2 (it's extraneous).

Experience in ArM 2 is a constant: in a story, it's 3 for magi, 2 for companions, 1 for grogs, plus any bonuses. ArM 3 makes it StoryGuide fiat (a far more reasonable way, since the ArM 2 way really kinda denigrates the contributions of the non-magi).

There is no Yearly Experience] in ArM 2, though there is in both ArM 1 and ArM 3.

Aging and Decrepitude[edit]

There is a major difference in the two editions, here.

ArM 2 begins aging at 35 + Stamina; ArM 3 begins it at 35, period. (I think the ArM 2 version is more reasonable, personally, since high Stamina should help with aging, which it doesn't, in ArM 3).

In ArM 2, to do an aging check, you first state the Characteristic you've used most often this year, and then make a simple roll, consulting a Characteristic Loss chart. If the characteristic chosen by the chart is the one you stated you used most often, the roll gets a +3. The roll gets -1 for every point of Decrepitude you possess. A longevity potion adds a flat +5 to the roll. On a roll of 5 or below, the Characteristic doesn't drop; otherwise, it's lowered by 1 point.

In ArM 3, aging has several steps. First, there's a roll to see if any characteristic drops at all. This roll is modified by +1 for every point of Decrepitude, and decreased by a longevity potion (the effectiveness of which is based on the InCo lab total of the magus who created it, at the time of the creation). If this roll indicates Characteristic loss, a simple roll + that Characteristic is made; if the roll is below 7, that characteristic is decreased by 1.

Decrepitude in ArM 2 also modifies healing rolls and the number of Botch Dice rolled on Soak botches. Decrepitude isn't used in either of those ways in ArM 3 (or at least, if it is, I can't find the rules for it).


I've looked this bit over a little less carefully than the rest, and thus didn't spot any big changes (other than the obvious split of combat into Action and Dueling systems).

Falling damage for falling on a hard surface is, in ArM 3, explicitly doubled after Soak is applied.

ArM 2 states that poisons can simply be handled as damage against which the Soak roll is based solely on Stamina + Size.

Plate Armor has been removed from the Armor Protection Chart in ArM 3. All Plate, in ArM 2, is Expensive; stats are as follows: Plate Cuirass (prot. 10, load 4), Plate Hauberk (prot. 15, load 6), Full Plate Armor (prot. 17, load 7).

One note, though: the Combat Botch suggestions in ArM 2 seem a lot more reasonable and useful for coming up with one's own Botch ideas.


Magic Resistance: the roll for Parma Magica in ArM 2 is simple; it's stress in ArM 3. (In ArM 1, Parma Magica is an actual spell, not an Ability.) ArM 3 allows you to also suppress your Form bonus by concentrating. ArM 2 does not allow this, but it does allow you to subtract your Vim score from your Magic Resistance, by concentrating.

Fast-Casting: ArM 2, -5 penalty on roll, plus double Botch Dice, and a roll of 0 indicates a side effect (whether or not you Botch). ArM 3, -5 penalty on roll, with 3 extra Botch Dice. (The chart for ArM 3 mentions a side-effect, but the rules do not; WotC has confirmed that the chart is erroneous.)

Spontaneous spells: ArM 3, you must always roll a stress die if you are Fatiguing yourself (p. 173, 2C 3P). ArM 3 also gives a "similar spell" bonus of +1 for every 5 levels of a similar known Formulaic spell. ArM 2, however, allows up to a +5 bonus for a colorful description of the spell (a roleplaying modifier, essentially).

Strengthening Formulaic Spells: in ArM 2, with non-ritual Formulaics, you can double the effect by expending 1 pawn of vis for each 5 levels of the spell (I think -- this is really poorly worded, ArM 2 p. 69: "For non-ritual formulaic magic, each point of raw vis duplicates 5 Levels of the spell. Thus you can double the effect of your spell by using 1 raw vis point per 5 levels of the spell.") In ArM 3, this weirdness doesn't exist; spending a pawn of vis simply adds +5 to your spellcasting roll.

Words and Gestures: ArM 3 states explicitly that casting without gestures negates Encumbrance penalties.

Using raw vis: in ArM 2, the maximum vis you can expend at a single time is your Vim score. In ArM 3, the maximum amount vis of a single Art you can expend at a single time is your score in that Art. In other words, if you have Creo 5, Ignem 3, Vim 4, and are casting a Creo Ignem spell, in ArM 2 you would be restricted to expending 4 pawns total (but it can be of any type), whereas in ArM 3, you could expend up to 8 pawns (5 of Creo and 3 of Ignem) but it must be either Creo or Ignem vis.

Vis in general: the concept of Art-specific vis is basically non-existent in ArM 2. Furthermore, in ArM 2, if you expend vis, you must expend all the vis you are touching; in ArM 3, you can decide how much you use.

Casting from a text: in ArM 2, the spell goes off whether or not you go Unconscious; in ArM 3, the spell fails if you go Unconscious.


Many spell descriptions have changed, of course.

One to note is the Aegis of the Hearth. In ArM 2, for spells entering the Aegis that have a target which would normally get a Resistance Roll, the target gets Level of the Aegis + 5 added to his Resistance Roll, thus making it much more likely that such spells will fizzle (spells that don't fit this get Level of the Aegis + 5 + die -- presumably a simple die). In ArM 3, it's just a flat resistance to all spells: Aegis + 5 + stress die.

Realms: The power interaction chart has been vastly simplified in ArM 3 (ArM 2 had the weird change in multipliers depending on Aura strength).


In ArM 2, the loser of a round drops a Fatigue level for every 5 points of exceeded resistance roll. In ArM 3, the loser drops a Fatigue level for every 5 points or fraction thereof.

ArM 3 allows explicit surrender before going Unconscious; the finishing spell can still be cast, but the loser's Parma Magica is not circumvented.

In ArM 2, the finishing spell must be of EITHER the same Technique or Form (or both); in ArM 3, the finishing spell must be of the same Technique AND Form.

In ArM 2, vis may be expended in the Certamen at any time. In ArM 3, vis can only be expended in the opposed roll (the one that involves the Form and Technique scores), not in the roll-to-weaken and its resistance roll.


The rules for studying/copying knowledges are only in ArM 2: you gain 3 XP in a knowledge per season of study, and your score cannot exceed the source's (usually a book). You can record 1 point per Season but cannot write more than half your score; you can copy at 3 points per season.

When studying from vis, in ArM 3, you add the rating of your Aura, to roll * pawns, in order to get the total effective score. In ArM 2, it's just roll * pawns.

The rules for vis extraction are only in ArM 2: you can extract, in a Season, a number of pawns of Vim vis equal to one-fifth of Creo + Vim + Magic Theory + (3 * Magical Aura).

Instilling effects: in ArM 2, you must equal the level of the desired effect with your lab total, in order to instill it. In ArM 3, you gain 1 point towards instilling the effect for every point your lab total is ABOVE the level of the effect; the effect is instilled when the accumulated points equal the effect level. In other words, it's MUCH harder to instill effects in ArM 3 (but there are no Lesser Enchanted Devices in ArM 2).

Potions: in ArM 2, the base total is your lab total plus three times the Aura; in ArM 3, it's your lab total plus the Aura. In ArM 2, expending vis increases this total by +3 per pawn; in ArM 3, expending vis for the appropriate Art(s) increases this total by +5 per pawn.

Longevity potions: the ArM 3 rules are more complicated, due to the change in aging; see above (and p. 107 in ArM 2 and p. 250 in ArM 3).

Magic Foci vs. Talismans: ArM 2 uses the former; ArM 3 uses the latter. The two serve the same function, under different names (a "spell focus" in ArM 3 is no longer an enchanted item, but a simple object used to give a bonus to a specific Formulaic spell). Both editions require that a Season be spent preparing the item for enchantment. ArM 3 also requires that an additional Season be spent attuning it as a talisman; a talisman in ArM 3 is also an Arcane Connection to you.

Distractions from Studies: ArM 3 reduces the penalties for being away; the first 10 days are "free", and after that it's 1 level of book study lost for every 2 days away, or -1 to the lab total for every 1 day away. (ArM 2 does not give any "free" days, and it's a -1 penalty to the lab total for each day; there's nothing said about study.)

Lab Texts: These only exist in ArM 3 (and later editions -- Andrew Gronosky).

Familiars: Familiars have "familiar powers" in ArM 2; in ArM 3, there are "bond qualities" instead. The two are substantially different. ArM 2 there is one power for every Art, and a score of 15+ in that Art is required to enchant that power. ArM 3 allows the simple purchase of positive and negative aspects of the bond, which affect the way master and animal interact, rather than being overt powers of the animal itself.

Vis: for most magical activity, ArM 2 does not state that Art-specific vis must be used.

A lot of good Saga/playstyle material was cut or rewritten between ArM 2 and 3; I'm of the opinion that the simple directness of the ArM 2 stuff is more effective than the verbose moodiness of ArM 3.

Opinion and Commentary[edit]

In addition to the personal assessments embedded in the preceding section, we offer some other perspectives on Third Edition.

Strong Points[edit]

Third Edition is often maligned in the Fan Community because of its well-known shortcomings. However, the edition is not without merit. It was a good game, and in practice its flaws (which mostly relate to atmosphere and meta-plot) could be easily disregarded or worked around.

Third Edition is very consistent in placing a strong emphasis role-playing a vibrant character and approaching the game as a narrative. Later editions seem more dry and simulationist by comparison.

Compared to Second Edition, Third Edition includes more description and background material on Mythic Europe.

The interior artwork is generally well-regarded, featuring illustrations by Eric Hotz and William O'Connor.

Weak Points[edit]

Most of the criticism of Third Edition centers on two points: its generally dark and moody tone, and the unpopular features that tie Ars Magica into the World of Darkness.

The quality of Third Edition supplements was hit and miss. Although there were some excellent Third Edition books, including Houses of Hermes, there were also several turkeys like the forgettable Pax Dei.

Obtaining Copies of Third Edition[edit]

As late as 2006, it was possible to buy a copy of Third Edition from Warehouse 23 for as little as $5 U.S. (plus shipping). It no longer seems to be available from Warehouse 23, but can usually be found on Ebay at low prices -- probably less than the book cost when it was new.

So, although Third Edition is out of print, it could not be considered a rare find. Shop around a bit and it should be easy to find a bargain.

Related Pages[edit]

Legacy Page[edit]

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