From Project: Redcap
Creating your first magus character in Ars Magica can be a daunting task, since there is so much to read and digest. How best to approach it? Well, building a character that you will like depends on what you are looking for in the game. We suggest two different ways, tailored for two different tastes derived from GNS Theory:
- The Narrativist approach is directed at players that are interested in creating a character to participate in a story. It is focused on imagining what your character will be like and the kind of stories that he will participate in, and then proceeding to enumerate the ways you can use the Ars Magica game mechanics to implement this vision. This is accomplished principally by going over the Virtues and Flaws list to better define the character, and then tailoring the wizard's magic and skills to fit.
- The Gamist approach is intended to speak to players that want to build highly competent wizards that will be devastating on the field of battle (or politics, or so on). It is a more simplistic approach, that starts by picking defining spells and proceeds to design a character to cast them by considering relatively few options. It is easier to apply, but also gives more standardized and less varied results.
But before we describe either approach, we will give general advice on the fastest way to design an Ars Magica starting character - using templates.
The core ArM5 book offers twelve templates of magi that can be simply adopted as your starting player character. This is, by far, the swiftest way to create a character - adopting a ready-made one. Each template has customization notes, giving advice on how to easily modify it. Of course, you can also make more extensive changes, but that requires more familiarity with the game rules. Ready-made characters can also be created by more experienced players in your group, or you could adopt one of the starting-characters created by Atlas Games or the fans (see Published Starting Characters).
Each of the core templates belongs to a certain House of the Order of Hermes, and presents a more-or-less typical or steretypical member of that House. For this reason, it is recommended you read them to familiarize yourself with the magi that are typical in the setting.
Some core-book magus templates, however, are less typical for their House, and certain defining House stereotypes are missing. There are also character concepts that may not be common in the Order, but are common choices for player characters. For this reason, we present here an extended list of templates that you can choose from, including both core book and fan-created templates. Like the core templates, each comes with notes on customization, but also with roleplaying and gaming advice. (Core book templates are not copied - only additional notes and explanations are provided here.) All templates use only the rules from the core-book, but notes on alternatives from supplements are added when relevant.
- Animalistic Bjornaer (Template):This is the Bjornaer template offered in the core book, representing a magus at home in nature and in his animal shape.
- Civilized Bjornaer (Template): This Bjornaer magus has fully embraced the Hermetic civilized life, while still remaining deeply tied to his Animal nature.
- Lab Rat (Template): This is the standard Bonisagus template - a magus driven to advance Hermetic magic theory. We provide some commentary and customization notes.
- Corporeal Necromancer (Template): This magus is fascinated by the human body, and conducts eerie and gross experiments on his subject-matter. His ultimate purpose is to accomplish some extraordinary magical feat, such as creating a new Adam by magic. A specialist in Creo Corpus, he is often sought after for medicine and longevity. This archetype is based on the core book Bonisagus template, but is specialized in a more useful area (instead of Auram).
- Storm Witch (Template): This maga hails from a tradition of storm witches, and is working on recovering her tradition and integrating it into Hermetic magi. It is a variant of the core-book Bonisagus template, tailored to better fit the House background presented in Houses of Hermes: True Lineages. It works best with alternatives offered in supplements.
- Trianoma Politician (Template): This maga strives to preserve peace in the Order of Hermes, acting to maintain unity and increase cooperation. She also works to contain the ramifications of its more rash members, especially in regards to mundane society. This is an alternate defining archetype of House Bonisagus that is missing from the core book, and is thus supplied here.
- The Blind Seer (Template): This magus is endowed with great prophetic powers, and has a special understanding of time and fate. This is an alternative stereotype of House Criamon, combined here with the classical blind-seer motif. It is more in line with the vision of the House given in the Houses of Hermes: Mystery Cults supplement, and advice is given for altering the template to accommodate supplementary content.
- Incomprehensible Mystic (Template): This House Criamon stereotype is well-represented by the core-book template. We add notes on relating it to the House background and setting.
- Stone Giant (Template): This is the template offered as an example of an House Ex Miscellanea tradition in the core book. While an excellent tradition, it should not be seen as common to the House - this is just one of many small traditions that House harbors. Further possible traditions (including the officially dominant ones) are described on Houses of Hermes: Societates.
- Hedge Wizard (Template): This magus descends from a tradition of petty folk witches that is looked-down upon by the modern Order of Hermes. His magic is severely limited in some ways, but he also wields unique supernatural powers Hermetic magic cannot reproduce. This is the stereotypical member of House Ex Miscellanea, more typical than the Stone Giant archetype presented in the core book. However, it is difficult to create using only the core book; alternatives utilizing supplements are highly recommended.
- Wolf Child (Template): Left to die of exposure, this child was nursed by a she-wolf and raised as one of the pack. In time, he was adopted into House Ex Miscellanea, but still feels more at home in nature. He has a strong affinity to wolves, and a feral spirit that frightens and drives away mundanes.
- Pyromaniac (Template): The stereotypical Flambeau magus, focused intently on throwing fire at his enemies, is well-represented by the core book's template. Here we only add some more comments and ideas for development.
- Death (Template): This sinister emaciated figure is fascinated by death and decay, and is a master at the art of Perdo. It is very similar to the character of Darius in the core book, or Philippus Niger from Guardians of the Forest. This is a defining stereotype of House Flambeau. (Representing a magus from the school of Apromor.)
- Frost Queen (Template): A maga that feels at home in the cold tundra of the far north, she is a master at Perdo Ignem and related to the Faerie Snow Queen of Winter. It is a member of House Flambeau, that combines the interests of the school of Apromor and Founder.
- Inquisitor (Template): This magus is called in to investigate crimes or question witnesses. The core book Guernicus template offers an excellent implementation of this very-popular Guernicus stereotype.
- Earth Wizard (Template): Another stereotype of House Guernicus, this magus practices earth-magic in the ancient tradition of Mercurian Magic. While still a Quaesitor, he is more an expert at law than an investigator. This is a less-common player choice than the Inquisitor stereotype offered by the core book template, but the background of the House suggests it is a common archetype for actual Guernicus magi.
- Magical Artist (Template): This is the template offered by the core-book for House Jerbiton, and indeed seems to represent well much of the House. We make some minor notes and observations.
- Noble Noble (Template): Blessed with noble blood, this character exemplifies leadership and nobility. This may actually be a problem, since he is torn between his duties to the Order of Hermes and to mundane society. This is another stereotypical magus of House Jerbiton, in some ways more typical than the Magical Artist the core book template offers.
- Pious Magus (Template): A pious Christian, this magus works hard to maintain good relations between the Church and the Order of Hermes. This is another stereotype of House Jerbiton, that works best with some use of supplements.
- Stormy Wanderer (Template): This is a magus from House Mercere that, influenced by his Redcap sodales, is taken to wandering. The strong connection to storms seems an idiosyncracy of the build that is not reflected well in the House background.
- Muto Specialist (Template): A master of change and transmutation, this magus is a member of House Mercere descending directly from its Founder. This stereotype is suggested by the House's background, and works best with material from the Houses of Hermes: True Lineages supplement.
- Faerie-Blooded Illusionist (Template): This is the same template as offered in the core book for House Merinitia, but we added some suggestions for alternatives and roleplaying.
- Tremere Diplomat (Template): This is the template offered in the core book for House Tremere. It represents an emphasis on balance between magical competence and political skills.
- Spirit Necromancer (Template): A forbidding figure, this magus summons the spirits of the dead and commands them. He is also skilled at bargaining or coercing other spirits or beings into his service. It is an archetype of House Tremere, and works best with the Houses of Hermes: True Lineages supplement.
- The Puppeteer (Template): This is the same template as the core book Tytalus template, but we offer advice on focusing it more.
- Dwarven Artificer (Template): This is the template provided for House Verditius in the core book. While certainly stereotypical, not all Verditius craftsmen are dwarven smiths. We offer advice on altering this template to suit other crafts or non-Dwarf characters.
- Verditius Warrior (Template): This is a fan-favored choice for House Verditius magi. This character focuses on enchanting armor and weapons, becoming a nigh-unstoppable armored warrior on the field of battle. The effectiveness of such a character is greatly enhanced by drawing on material from supplements.
If one of these templates appeals to you, you can just adopt the template, perhaps make a few changes, and you're good to go. If you want to design your character in more detail, however, or to construct one based on a different concept, you should continue on to the more detailed character generation advice, below.
The Narrativist Approach
The Narrativist approach to character development is focused on character motivations, and emphasizes placing characters into situations where their motives are in conflict thereby making the decision process the primary driving force in roleplaying. Drama is enacted by character motives and the outcomes of the character's actions propel the evolving story toward greater challenges.
The Gamist Approach
The Gamist Approach is focused on the "win." A player or troupe operating in the Gamist model typically face successively challenging opponents or situations with little concern about how or why (from a metagame perspective) the challenges fit into the overall story. Emphasis is often placed on combat as the means to overcoming obstacles and choices in styles of combat, types of weapons, or lists of spells, typify the Gamist Approach.
Go over the spell list, and pick one level 35-45 signature spell. Build the character around it - picking Arts, Virtues, and so on, firming up the character concept as you make more choices. Yair (talk) 05:16, 28 March 2014 (MDT) Nota bene: it's equally fun to pick a "core" Virtue (or Flaw, or combination thereof) as a "signature" element, and build the rest of the character to support and flesh out this core. Be careful, though, to avoid the "one-note wonder" who is only a fun PC in a specific circumstance, or an otherwise "flat" or "shallow" character concept.
Make sure that as a player you have a clear idea of how your magus character can use at least 60 levels worth of his formulaic spells in whatever you imagine will happen in a "typical" adventure session, and make sure that the storyguide more-or-less agrees with you. --Richard Love
Have a clear idea before you start looking at the rules. Get at least 1 combat spell. Not because it's actually necessary so much as because far too many stories involve combat, and you need a way to do something useful. Accept that the idea may change, but if you have no idea, crafting a character can be a messy experience. -- Tellus
Make sure you know what the character wants to do, and that this fits with the Troupe and SGs ideas. In my experience the worst situations arise from either creating a magus character that does not what to do with his time and the resources available. It also sucks to create a concept that does not mesh with with the saga's themes. Or if two players create too similar characters. Also - have at least one "save your own bacon" spell. It can be a combat spell, a spell to allow you a monent to escape. And don't worry too much about Penetration, if you are not a danger seeking magus let the big guns deals with demons and magical beasts. But if you find yourself surrounded by mundane bandits, what then? it's a sad day for a mighty magus to be killed off trivially by random ruffians, because his great spells are of no use here. Most physical Forms offer some good spell options to scare off, damage or otherwise force your way to safety. The Mentem magus can get great use out of Panic of the Trembling Hearth or Call to Slumber. The Imaginem magus can do useful things with illusions. Vim...that's perhaps the hardest to pull off. --Christian Anderson
In addition, the thread also discussed ways of simplifying character generation. It was stressed that character generation should be done stage by stage, but each stage can be simplified. Early Childhood should first be chosen - either pick one from the book examples, or simply take 3 General Abilities at level 2 and a Native Language at 5. Then develop Later Life; for a character starting apprenticeship at age 10, this can be simplified to taking 2 more Abilities at level 3 and either taking another Ability at 2 or increase an existing 2 to 3. For the Apprenticeship stage, taking the recommended minimum Abilities leaves 30 XP, which is enough for one Ability at 3 or two at 2. One then has 120 XP to invest in Arts, as per the core book's recommendation.
When selecting your virtues and flaws for a magus, strongly consider a Minor Magical Focus. It's a minor virtue, which means it's easy to buy, and in return you get the ability for your character to *excel* a type of magic. It's a fantastic way to get spotlight time for your mage, and also makes it easier for new players to work out what to do in downtime, as you can always fallback on developing spells that interact with your focus. Another good bit of advice is to pick one Form and one Technique, and take Puissant and Affinity in both of them. If the Form and Technique overlap with your focus, you'll be outstanding at that area, while the basic Puissant and Affinity will give you a notable level of power in a very broad area. On the other hand, consider carefully what hermetic flaw you take, as these also have a massive impact on how your mage will play. Rather than taking Flaws which will have a minimal impact, it can be much more fun to take a notable Flaw, as it'll shape your character and the way you play them. A Deficiency in a Technique is an obvious example of this kind of flaw. If you combine taking a magical focus, focus on two arts with Puissant and Affinity, and cut out one art with a Deficiency, you'll end with a mage that's got a very clear area of focus, good strength in a wider area and a notable weakness too. This makes it much easier to cut down on the sheer amount of magical options available, and will result in a playable character who can easily excel in a specific area. - Kath
The Covenant and Magi Creation
You should have an idea of the type of covenant your character will live in, but also the type of saga everyone wants to play.
Why does this particular character resides there? While some character concepts may be easy to fit in, some may be a little more difficult. You also don't want one player to be frustrated because his bookish, pacifist character finds himself unexpectedly amidst a covenant of warrior magi faced by the mongol invasion...
Be aware of potential conflicts. Is a character with a Pagan major flaw really at home in a covenant with the Church Territories or Ecclesiastical hooks? Some combinations may lead to a situation in which the troupe will ignore a story flaw or a hook in order to smooth things up. You don't want that, as these are supposed to generate more stories, not to be ignored.
Be also conscious of covenant choices that may make some of your character irrelevant. There's a lot of overlap between the Incompetent Covenfolks hook and the Difficult Underlings flaw. Likewise, in your covenant has an Immunity boon, you may not want to take the same immunity for your character.
Supplementary Material for Magi Creation
[List or describe supplementary material such as ArM books (e.g., Houses books) with useful information for specific Magi and their associations to the Houses]
- Pearls of Wisdom: Your One Tip for Character Creation, created in Tue Mar 25, 2014, available through http://forum.atlas-games.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=29855
- GNS Theory: A Wikipedia explanation of the GNS (Gamist, Narrativist, Simulationist) theory of roleplaying gamer types.