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Experience Points (abbreviated XP) are used to represent an Ars Magica character's learning and development. Characters accrue experience points over the course of the game, and players can spend those experience points to improve the character's Arts and Abilities.
Gaining Experience Points
Characters gain experience through play by participating in stories. Unlike many other role-playing games, Ars Magica also grants characters experience points for studying, working, and practicing their trades.
Characters in ArM5 can gain experience points in the following ways:
- By Exposure
- By "adventuring," that is, participating in stories
- By practice
- By being trained in an ability
- By taught in an ability
- By studying Books or Vis
Spending Experience Points
In ArM5, experience points are interchangeable between Arts and Abilities. That is, an experience point used to improve an Art score is equivalent to an experience point used to improve an Ability -- they're the same "size."
When a character gains experience points, the storyguide will usually state that those experience points can only be spend on certain Arts or Abilities. For example, if the characters gained experience points traversing a difficult mountain pass, the storyguide might allow them to spend those points on Abilities like Athletics and Survival, perhaps even the Art of Terram, but not Carouse or Order of Hermes Lore.
The cost to increase an Art or Ability is given on page 163 of ArM5.
Starting Experience Points
Every character in ArM5 receives a certain number of Experience Points at creation. The amount of experience points depends primarily on the character's age.
First, all characters gain a certain number of experience points for the knowledge they learned as young children. (The exact number is given on page 31 of ArM5). These "early childhood" experience points can only be spent on particular Abilities. Then, all characters over the age of 5 gain additional experience points depending on their age. Magi use slightly different rules, gaining experience during apprenticeship separately from that gained in their earlier and later life.
All the character's initial experience points must be spent before play begins. However, it is OK to spend them in such a way that the character's scores in Arts and/or Abilities don't come out to round numbers. For example, it is acceptable for a starting character to spend 8 experience points in a certain Art, which would lead to a score of 3 plus two additional points toward improving it to 4. This would be written as 3+2.
Limitations on Starting Experience Point Use
There are some restrictions on how characters can spend their starting experience points.
Certain categories of Abilities are restricted, and can only be purchased (at character creation) by magi. Other characters can purchase Abilities in these categories if they have a Virtue that allows them to do so. The restricted categories are Martial Abilities, Academic Abilities, and Arcane Abilities. Supernatural Abilities always require a Virtue, even for magi.
Additionally, starting characters are limit in how high a score they can have in any Ability. This Ability limit depends on the character's age; see page 31 of ArM5.
Virtues and Starting Experience Points
Certain Virtues, such as Warrior and Priveleged Upbringing, give the character a fixed number of experience points at character creation. Experience points from these Virtues can usually be spent on only a limited set of Abilities. The Virtue's description will explain how the experience points may be spent.
The Wealthy Virtue affects the starting experience points for a character as noted on ArM5 p. 31 under "Later Life." Note that magi are not allowed to take the Wealthy Virtue according to the Virtue's description.
Generally speaking, other Virtues do not affect the character's starting experience points.
There exist Virtues -- Secondary Insight, Elementalist, and so on -- that affect the number of experience points that increase how many experience points a character gains in play. However, with the exception of Wealthy, Virtues that affect experience points in play do not affect the number of experience points a character has when created. David Chart posted this explanation to the Berkeley mailing list:
This is the problem, and the reason why those Virtues don't affect normal character generation.
If you want the benefit, use Ridiculously Detailed And Obscenely Slow Character Generation -- run your apprentice through all fifteen years of apprenticeship. That way you have enough information to apply the Virtues.
Without knowing exactly what your character was studying at each season of apprenticeship and from what source, there is really no way to know how many bonus experience points should be applied.
- Advancement Table, ArM5 pages 31 and 164 (the same table appears on both pages, for convenience)
- Early childhood experience points, ArM5 p. 31
- Experience points for starting characters, ArM5 p. 31
- Increasing Arts and Abilities, ArM5 page 163
- Gaining Experience Points, ArM5 pp. 163-165