So for the Tin Islands Project I’m doing things backwards.  I should design cool things for the characters to overcome, and then design the pregens so that they can overcome them. This makes for a smoother game, so long as you can avoid the feeling that you used ot get in some older D&D modules that every funny shaped rock was important for some particular puzzle up ahead, because every named item came from the Chekov’s Gun Factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan (in the sporting goods section).

That brief and obscure musical reference over, I made the first PC for it today, and I need to apologise to the commenter who said “Hey, no Mysteries!” and I said “Dude, Bjornaer are easy!”  No, Bjornaer are -not- easy.  Their Crowning Piece of Awesome is shapeshifting, but that means their combat stats endlessly multiply into the sort of plague I was looking to skip.  So  I still have my new Bjornaer, but I need to sort him out sharpish.

Here is what I’d like to call his Simplified Sheet. My game design breakthrough for today? The Ars sheet hasn’t been revised since characteristics were bought in matching pairs.  There’s no reason for the characteristics not to be in alphabetical order.

In the Virtues and Flaws I’ve left out things like Hermetic Magus.

In the full sheet, Ken has Heartbeast and Magic Theory Abilities, which won’t come up in the adventure so I’ve taken them off the sheet.  I’m tempted to do the same thing with Scribe. Opinions?  The specialisations have been incorporated as a straight +1 bonus.  The related characteristics have been added in. Magic Shield is the Parma Magica. Speak with Animals is Animal Ken.

Personality traits and confidence have been left out.


Ken (working name) the Raven.

Virtues and Flaws [Special features of your magical gifts, personality quirks, other benefits.]

Animal Ken and Inoffensive to animals: You can speak to animals, regardless of species. Your Gift does not scare animals, so when you are conversing with them, your roll is not penalised.

Avarice: You like collecting shiny things.  This is not pathological, but if there’s a shiny thing to be easily had, you really should try to steal it.

Blatant Gift: Although animals are not affected by your Gift, humans deeply distrust you on sight.  This is even true in your raven form, where you are the spookiest bird of ill-omen they have ever seen, and they don’t need much encouragement to throw rocks at you. -6 on all rolls to communicate with humans who do not know you well.

Deficient Technique and Incompatible Forms: You simply can’t do fire magic at all, and your creation magic is shockingly bad. Don’t even try.

Heartbeast: You can turn into a raven or human at will. This takes 1 round, and requires no dice roll. Your clothes and equipment do not change. Wounds are retained through the change.

Major magic focus on human-animal transformations: You are about 30% better at these spells than your Arts indicate. This has been added to your formula scores. See your spontaneous spell menu for details when you make up spells on the fly.

Subtle and quiet magic: Your character suffers no penalty for casting spells without moving his hands, and only half the normal penalty for casting without speaking. This is useful in some animal forms (although your favourite, raven, allows speech anyway.)

Way of the Forest: Your character gains +3 on Ability rolls when in woodland.

Abilities: [Scale: 4 competent, 6 mastered, 10 legendary]

Awareness 4, Brawl (includes fighting with teeth and claws) 3, Athletics (includes flight) 3, Faerie Lore 3, Magic Lore 3, Magical Shield 3, Order of Hermes Lore 3, Scribe 3, Speak Castillian language 7, Speak Latin 6,  Speak with Animals 3, Survival 4, Swim 3. Remember to add +3 to any Ability roll in woodland.

Characteristics: [Scale -3/+3, Average human = 0 ] Communication 0, Dexterity 0, Intelligence 1, Perception 2, Presence 0, Quickness 2, Strength 0, Stamina 0.


Arts: [Scale: 0 Basic competence, 5 good enough to teach others, 10 as good as new magi get, 40 as good as old magi get.]

Verbs: Change 10, Control 5, Create 0, Destroy 0, Know.

Nouns: Air 0, Animals 10, Earth 0, Fire 0, Human Body 10, Images 0, Minds 0, Magic 0, Plants 0, Water 0,

Ritual spells: wait for handouts from your SG at relevant points in the story.

Formulaic spells: You always cast these spells successfully in stressless situations. To cast a spell successfully under stress, you need to roll equal to or higher than the target number given here. If the number is negative you do still need to roll, because bad things may happen if you roll a 0. You may lower the target number by spending vis (-2 per point spent), by making sweeping gestures with your hands (-1), and by shouting your spell (-1).You can make things harder for yourself by casting silently (+5). After the roll you may bump it up by 10 points by spending a Fatigue level. Basically – you are always going to get these spells to work.

  • Beast of outlandish size: (Range: must touch target/ Duration: soonest sunset or sunrise / Target: one animal): Doubles the size of an animal. Useful for combat and scaring people. Roll -5
  • Become the wolf of the sea: (Range: You / Duration: soonest sunset or sunrise / Target: You): Transforms you into a shark. Roll 0.
  • Call to slumber: (Range: where your voice can be heard / Duration: momentary / Target: one mind): makes a mind fall asleep. The character can be woken normally after a moment, if disturbed.  Sleeping characters die really easily in this game. Roll 5
  • Crystal dart: (Range: where your voice can be heard / Duration: momentary / Target: one bit of rock): Transforms a piece of rock into a sharp shard of crystal, and flings it at an enemy, for +10 Damage (about equal to a sword blow). You don’t need to aim. Roll 5
  • Curse of the coney: (Range: where your voice can be heard / Duration: soonest sunset or sunrise / Target: one humanoid). Turns the victim into a rabbit. Rabbits have negligible combat statistics. Roll 0.
  • Pass the unyielding portal: (Range: must touch target / Duration: two minutes / Target: one piece of wood) Makes a piece of wood, the size of a door or smaller, flexible enough for the magus to bend it out of shape. After the spell expires, the wood remains in whatever shape it was twisted into. Roll 5
  • Gift of the bear’s fortitude: (Range: You / Duration: soonest sunset or sunrise / Target: You) : transforms your flesh into that of a hardy beast. Adds +3 to your Soak score for combat, but lowers all Abilities requiring fine motor skills by 1. Roll -5
  • Shape of the woodland prowler (Range: must touch target / Duration: soonest sunset or sunrise / Target: one humanoid): Transforms a character into a wolf. At your discretion you can allow them to turn back when they wish, ending the spell, or force them to wait until the spell ends. If letting them choose, they must hold a piece of wolfskin when struck by the spell. Roll -5

Spontaneous spell menu:

To cast one of these spells, read what your pool score is in the menu below, then choose if you want to spend Fatigue or not. If you spend Fatigue, roll a stress dice and add half what you roll to the first number, otherwise just use the second number. You can add to the pool with the modifiers for shouting, vis and so on, given above in formulaic magic, except the +10 boost for spending Fatigue. If your pool is big enough to pay for the effect, you get it. Remember magical creatures may have Magic resistance, and these weak spells are unlikely to pierce it. If you get a total above what’s on the menu, pitch an interesting effect to the group.

All of the effects below require the magus to touch the target, and affect one thing for as long as the magus concentrates.

Spells that change people or animals: 10 /4, for changing people to animals or vice verse, Pool 15 / 6

  • Changing something made from an animal product into another thing of the same mass made of the same animal product has a cost of 4. If if until sunset or more than one thing or at voice distance, cost 5, if two of previous then cost 10, if three of previous cost 15.
  • Changing part of an animal is cost 5,  If if until sunset, or at voice distance, cost 10, if both then the is cost 15, just Sight range is also 15.
  • Changing something made from an animal product into a different animal product has a cost of 5. If if until sunset, or at voice distance, cost 10, if both then the is cost 15, just Sight range is also 15.
  • Make a major, but not supernatural, change in an animal costs 10, 15 for voice range, or sunset duration, 20 for both.
  • Changing an animal into another animal costs 15.
  • Changing someone to gain a minor animal ability, that does not affect dice rolls, costs 4, If if until sunset or more than one person or at voice distance, cost 5, if two of previous then cost 10, if three of previous cost 15. If the person is you, then roll the cost back one step.
  • Making a person look like another, unspecified, person by changing apparent race, height, gender, or other features costs 5, If if until sunset or more than one person or at voice distance, cost 10. If the person is you, the cost is 5.
  • Making a person slightly resistant to damage by giving them the hide or scales of an animal (+1 Soak)  costs 15 (or 10 if its you). If until sunset or more than one person or at voice distance, cost 20.
  • Turning a person into a land animal costs 20, 25 if it lasts until sunrise, is at vocal range, or affects more than one person. Reduce the cost by 5 if its you.

Spells that control animals or the body: Pool 8 / 3

  • Moving dead animal matter, weighing no more than the magus could carry one-handed, slowly, costs 3.  If if until sunset or more than one object or object heavy enough to require five men to carry,  or at voice distance, cost 4, if two of previous or at sight distance, then 5, if three of previous then cost 10.
  • Giving an animal a single command which will not endanger the animal costs 5,  If  until sunset or more than one animal, or at voice distance, cost 10.
  • Warding a person or place the size of a small room, against animal attacks costs 5 (or 4 if the person is you), if until sunset, or until someone inside a protective ring crosses the ring, cost 10.
  • Causing a person to lose control of a body part costs 4, If  until sunset or at voice distance, cost 5, if both, 10.
  • Moving a person slowly in one direction, provided the surface holds the person’s weight, costs 5 (or 4 if its you), if until sunset, at voice distance, or more than one person, then 10 (or 5 if its you).
  • Controlling the gross movements of a person, or moving them slowly in unnatural ways, costs 10 (or 5 if its you).
  • Moving yourself at running speed in an unnatural way costs 10.

Any spell that transforms things, targets bodies, or targets animals, in minor ways: Pool 5 /2

Negotiate with the other players. Examples including making liquids into minor poisons, changing small details in memories and changing how objects look. The bigger the effect, the shorter its duration and casting distance. Spells that affect only the caster are more powerful than those which target others.

 So, it’s late and I’m tired. I’ll leave Ken’s combat stats for another day.

What do you think of the layout?  The spell menus?


7 replies on “The cart before the horse and the wolf before the shark

  1. How is giving a character The Blatant Gift a good idea for complete novices?
    If its just a mere -06 , without some flavour text ,
    then why not just ditch introducing The Gift at all for this exercise?


    1. I’m keeping the Gift so that Companions have something to do. We already have an “All magi – no Gift problem” intro adventure in “Promises, Promises”

      Also, there is flavour text: the handout to all players says the Gift makes people distrust magi, and this character sheets says: Although animals are not affected by your Gift, humans deeply distrust you on sight. This is even true in your raven form, where you are the spookiest bird of ill-omen they have ever seen, and they don’t need much encouragement to throw rocks at you. -6 on all rolls to communicate with humans who do not know you well.”


    1. I think it’s great so far!

      I think you’re probably right that Art Scores aren’t necessary. However, they are one of the mechanical foundations of the game, and as such, will probably give new players a “truer” glimpse into how the game is run. If you decide to keep them, I personally would hope you label them with a heading such as “Magical Arts”, and add “Form (the nouns) and Technique (the verbs).” Just labelling them as “nouns” and “verbs” removes a LOT of the “cool factor” from the character sheet. As a player, I want to sit down and use my imagination at least a LITTLE bit.

      Also, from a formatting perspective, I would definitely add carriage returns after the ranges in the spell area. I think it’s cleaner, and allows for easier reading at the game table. I’m not sure if this is your intended final format…..


  2. What do you do when the player decides they want to spont XX that isn’t on the list? Without a score you’d have to totally make up whether they can do it or not. At least with a score you’ll have something to go on. Unless, of course, you plan to write an adventure with NO freewill involved. 🙂


    1. Have you read the list?

      If a player wants to spont X and it isn’t on the list, as it stands it has a casting total of (Sta) which in this case is 0, because everything with a total of more than 0 is on the lisr.

      So I could add a line saying: “For everything else, you pool is 0.”

      I don’y get your comment on free will, could you explain it again in another way? Remember this is meant to be an introduction to Ars Magica for people playing brief convention games, so the usual “What do you want to do? I’ll just facilitate.” style of running stories doesn’t work in this instance.


  3. ::blushes:: I had “read through” them but it hadn’t registered that your list is actually the guidelines from which any spont would be created. For some reason (probably because I’m at work) it seemed you had an arbitrary list which any newbie would immediately abandon and want to do something else. Thus the free will comment. Every time I’ve introduced someone to Ars they seem to want to replicate some fantastic power effect from some movie or another game, “This is a game about magic right?” Maybe I’ve had bad luck with new players.

    So, retconning my original work-besotted comment, I’d say this looks both peachy and keen. I still would like to see the numbers just out of preference. Be prepared with a couple of animals the character might want to change into. “Turning a person into a land animal…” is on the list and a “quick look up for stats”, as you’ve found, will turn into a drawn out math fest. Also as this is a simplified game, the player might not get the Bjornaer distinction between changing shapes and theriomorphy, so be prepared with stats for “I want to change my hands into dragon claws” or some such.


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