Project: Redcap; the crossroads of the Order

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Welcome to Ars Magica

From Project: Redcap

Welcome, and thanks for your interest in Ars Magica! We, the maintainers of Project: Redcap, hope you will enjoy the game as much as we do.

What to Buy[edit]

If you don't already have a copy of the Ars Magica rule book, the good news is that you don't have to buy one! As explained in the Fourth Edition page, you can find a PDF of the Fourth Edition rule book for free. You can get other free stuff for Fourth Edition, including the introductory scenario Promises, Promises, from Atlas Games's Fourth Edition Web page.

Fifth Edition is current and is generally considered better, so you may want to consider upgrading to the "paid version" sooner rather than later.

Whichever edition you choose, Ars Magica has an extensive library of game supplements. The following pages will help you decide what to buy, and when:

Getting Started with the Rules[edit]

The core rulebook is the obvious source for learning the game. If you don't want to sit down and devour the whole book, however, here is a quick "recommended reading" list of what is critical to read from the core Ars Magica Fifth Edition book before playing:

  • Introduction, p. 4-7 (basic ideas, and die rolls). The glossary on p. 8 is also recommended.
  • The Order of Hermes, p. 10-16 (the Houses of Hermes, the Hermetic Oath and its various ramifications, and the concept of covenants). The history of the Order (the beginning of the chapter) is of lesser importance. If you choose to play one of the Mystery Houses, you should also read on the relevant Mystery (see p. 91-93). You may also want to read the specific spells you know in the Spells chapter.
  • Character Types and Basics, p. 17-18. Character Templates (p. 20-28) is needed for quick character generation, and much more for detailed character generation.
  • Abilities, p. 62 (the basic rules). The ability list itself (the rest of the chapter) is only optional reading - the abilities are mostly self-explanatory by name.
  • Hermetic Magic, p. 85 (The Gift), the Hermetic Arts (p. 77-79), Raw Vis (p. 80), Casting Spells (p. 81-82).
  • Combat, wounds, and fatigue (p. 171-180)

A storyguide would also want to read the Bestiary, Stories, Sagas, and perhaps Mythic Europe chapters of the core book.

Further, long-term character advancement would require familiarity with more of the core book.

Overall, about 30 pagees are recommended for a minimal reading. The contents of the rest of the page should aid you to decide which of them is really needed for you, and allow you to understand them more easily.

Basic Game Mechanics[edit]

To play a character, you need to understand how the game mechanics of Ars Magica work. There is no point in going over all the mechanics here - we recommend reading the relevant parts of the core Ars Magica Fifth Edition book. However, we'll provide a brief primer, to help direct your reading.

The game determines success in (non-trivial) tasks with a die roll. All rolls are made using a 10-sided die. Any roll can be either a Stress Roll roll or a Simple Roll. You can learn about these by reading ArM5 p. 6-7.

Each character has certain basic features (see ArM5 p. 18). These include a list of Characteristics (the character's inborn attributes, such as Strength or Intelligence), Abilities (learned skills, such as Latin or Brawl), and for magi also the Hermetic Arts. Each of these traits has a Level (sometimes called Score), a number indicating how it affects relevant die rolls.

In general, you make the roll (stress or simple, as determined by the storyguide), add the relevant traits, and add any further relevant modifiers the storyguide decides are appropriate. The higher the end result the better - if it passes the Ease Factor, a number decided by the storyguide, the action succeeds.

There are several typical types of checks. The Ability check is perhaps the most common. To make an ability check, roll the die, add the relevant Ability, and add the relevant Characteristic as determined by the situation at hand. For example, you might add Guile + Communication to lie effectively, or add Guile + Perception to discern a lie. See ArM5 62-63 for more details on ability checks.

A second common roll is the spell casting roll. Casting a spell involves the Hermetic Arts, which are divided into Techniques and Forms. You generally add Stamina + one Technique + one Form + any ambient supernatural aura (as determined by the storyguide) to your spell casting roll. A magus has a list of known ("formulaic") spells, whose (Level-10) serves as the Ease Factor. Alternatively, he may attempt to cast spells he doesn't know, but this is more difficult (see Spontaneous Magic). See ArM5 p. 81-82 for details on casting spells.

Finally, you need to understand how to run combat, including wounds, fatigue, and how to calculate whether you hit and so on. See ArM5 p. 171-172, 176, 178-180.

Creating a Character[edit]

In order to create a character you will need to further understand concepts such as Virtues & Flaws, and delve into character generation rules. We recommend that for a first game you adopt a ready character from the other players or use one of the templates provided in ArM5 p. 20-28. If you wish to create your own character, read carfeully the detailed character generation rules.

You may also wish to read more about Character generation here.


Preparing for the first game[edit]

As a player, you need only go over your character sheet, and perhaps obtain some 10-sided dice, to prepare for the game. For a storyguide, the task is a bit more complicated.

The "Sagas" and "Mythic Europe" chapters in ArM5 do an excellent job at describing the kind of considerations that you would be wise to make. Things like how fantastic you want your Mythic Europe to be, how much Raw Vis to give, and so on. Here are some things the books doesn't mention, though.

Power Level[edit]

Even starting magi are powerful. With even a few years past apprenticeship, magi can become exceedingly powerful. This has ramifications for stories. ArM stories are just no about raw force. The magi already have plenty of that. Only very rarely will the PCs actually meet opponents that are actually more powerful - a Saint, their angry peers, a mighty dragon or devil, or so on.

Instead, try to build your stories around subterfuge, politics, and so on. Most stories are about figuring out what is going on, what the PCs want to happen, and how to bring it about (hopefully, without being pawns in someone else's machinations).

Build your mysteries keeping in mind that your magi will have mind-reading spells, or could obtain ones. Don't rely on long travel when magi can teleport, fly as birds, or so on. Even relatively high Magic Resistance will often succumb to magi casting using Wizard's Communion or prepared with a high Penetration ability and an arcane connection (and perhaps some sympathetic connections!) to the target, or just a handful of raw vis.

Your First Covenant[edit]

Perhaps the pivotal character in the saga, creating a covenant can be hard work. If it suits the players, spending a session contemplating the covenant and saga is an excellent idea; the Covenants sourcebook can aid in defining and imagining the covenant and intended saga. However, do not feel compelled to design the whole thing. Remember the cardinal rule of gaming: Have fun. If making the covenant in detail or keeping a handle on its mechanics is too much for you, just don't. You can start with just a name and a location, and flesh out details later as you learn the game.

The most important details of the covenant are the local aura, the library, and vis sources. You can just state the aura (a Magic Aura of 3 is standard). You can similarly state the covenant's initial raw vis stocks and sources (see the core book's Sagas chapter on advice on setting those). We recommend erring on the side of caution and initially giving few if any vis sources - you can more easily add ones later than take ones away. As the saga progresses, you will probably want to keep track of raw vis stocks, perhaps on an annual basis.

Building the library is perhaps the most daunting part of setting up a covenant. Instead of building an entire library in one go, you can decide on how many Build Points you have and allocate them as the saga progresses according to story needs; don't feel bad if you end up not sticking to your intended total.

Alternatively, if you can find the library from another covenant and re-use it, you've saved yourself a lot of work. You may borrow the library, or the entire covenant, from some covenant that's already written-down.

There also exist some ready-made covenants for earlier editions:

  • Nigrasaxa is free online. As a Fourth Edition covenant, it is should be close enough to Fifth Edition rules to be playable until you've outgrown it.
  • Triamore: the Covenant at Lucien's Folly is a whole book detailing a Fourth Edition covenant.
  • Mistridge is a whole book detailing a Third Edition covenant.

Things To Do[edit]

You may want to print out Character Sheets, a Covenant Record Sheet, pages for Magic Item Sheets, and so on.

Advancing and creating ArM character becomes extremely easy with the use of the Metacreator program.

Some ready-made adventures for ArM are available. You can see the adventures in our Adventures page, or peruse the Products page for official adventures.


The edit history of this page before August 6, 2010 is archived at Legacy:welcome_to_ars_magica.