Here are my initial thoughts:

Anything which is the obvious selection for an experienced player should be free and baked in.

Characteristics are just broad Virtues pretending to be something else.

The virtue list is clogged with examples of (+3 on this skill) Virtues, and instead of noting that they are all the one virtue, with different in-world dressing, they are treated as separate. This should cease.

Virtues that unlock skills and abilities make no sense and should be removed.

Virtues and flaws should not balance.

The skills list is too wide, does not make sufficient use of Profession as a catch-all, and contains separate military skills for things which real people did together, like Brawling and fighting with weapons. I’m fine with longbows having an untrained penalty, but your basic poacher should be able to hit a man as well as he hits a deer with his shortbow.

The numerical differences between weapons are neither interesting nor useful. The combat should be opposed skill rolls with bonuses for better gear than the opponent.

The multiple rolls to resolve as something as simple as a swordthrust make the game slow and the system intrusive. Shades of narrative control needs to be given, not a damage number. When you have bonuses for gear, then Damage can be represented by damage to gear, by situational changes like seizing high ground, or by actual wounds.

Experience point residual pools are unnecessary.  Do the thing, get the thing.

Beginning players should be limited to a single Technique+Form pair if playing magi.

Libraries are detailed to a ridiculous degree. If your source is a high enough quality, you should just get your level of magical training, Do the thing: get the thing.

Longevity potions should not exist. Longevity should be an innate property of being a magus, or not exist (four score and ten, no more.)

Arts should use the skills progression. Sponts use the addition of arts, double for formulaic (double plus X for fatigue loss). Rituals break this.

No Latin.

The Order should be smaller: if you create a new spell, people should care.


Magical and Companion characters get ten points of virtues, and can take another five if balanced, Grogs get five, with an extra one if you take a flaw. Remember, in this system, Characteristics are Virtues.

Virtues, for now, just as is, but ignore anything that just unlocks skills. Also, a Characteristic is a Minor Virtue that is a +1 bonus whenever the a specific adjective is relevant to a skill. Intelligent, sly, charming, strong, whatever…


In this system, your Profession has a lot broader application. If you’re a fisherman, you can use that skill to bargain for things you’d sometimes buy, to sail, and to use tools like your knife as a tool.  You can also use it for minor brawls. Your personal history, and this profession also replace many of your Lores. This use of Profession to represent “things you know how to do because it’s your job” doesn’t kill off a lot of skills: if you are a fisherman and you learn how to to burgle buildings you may need Stealth.  Alternatively, you might prefer to get Profession: Burgular.

The specific skill for hitting people is called Fighting, but if you are, for example, a Knight, then your Profession works for that too.

Arcane abilities can similarly be tied to professions, like Soothsayer and Nun, but if you want to be a lady courtier who has the Second Sight, that’s a separate skill.

Hermetic Arts:

I’d like to remove Imaginem somehow…as an easier layer of difficulty to the other Nouns. For new players, 1 Noun + 1 Verb is all that’s allowed, to prevent them being paralysed by choice.

Vis is just vis.  No flavours. It’s so much simpler. At cons I use matches and you actually burn them when you use the pawns.

Certamen uses the fighting rules: see later.

Spells: the lower art totals flatten out the art guidelines. Eventually I’ll rework them as steps of 3, not 5.

Aging: I do not care.  Really I don’t.  I know the rest of the world does, but really?  For PCs?  Really?

Combat is simple, if you come from a diceless background. Here’s how it works:

You roll and the NPC rolls. If you like, you can have the NPC roll first so you get to enjoy targeting a number in your roll.

  • If you have better weapons, you get +3.
  • If you have better armor, +3.
  • If you have a situational advantage (on a horse when your opponent is not? Standing on a table fighting someone below you?) +3.
  • There are no minuses for having worse gear: the difference is expressed through the bonus to the person with the advantage.

If you win the roll, you have narrative control to the extent that you describe how you win. The player of the defeated character can veto, and can perform small, interruptive actions that make sense in the broader context of your win. If the character has a resource that they reveal to disrupt the flow of the story, negotiate, but the winner is still the one making the story.

How much you win by determines the degree to which you can win. The basic wins are

“Minor damage” which is anything that gives a +1 bonus on subsequent scenes

“Light damage” which is anything which gives you a +3, or takes away an opponent’s advantage to the same value. This is, for example, an injury that prevents the off-hand being used.

“Medium damage” which is anything which gives you a +6, or takes away an opponent’s advantage to the same value. For example, throwing salt in an enemy’s eyes so that he’s blind until the fight is over.

“Heavy damage” is -9, which is, for example, an injury that forces the opponent to drop his shield and prevents them from picking up anything to use as a fending bar.

Anything above this is a discussion about death.

A few rules:

You need to agree for your character to die. Don’t be a tool.  Seriously. People will hate you if you are a tool.

You may trade death for other forms of removal from the story, provided you are not playing a grog.

Non-grogs may not die on the first injury. You always get one loss first. It may be that the guy chops off your arm…but you never die or kill on the first hit.

April 2016 update:

Might it be possible to realign the two experience systems by making the mundane skill system Verb and Noun, and using the triangular scale?  My idea is as follows:

Currently in Ars, there are eight Characteristics, which are innate qualities of the body and mind. These are added to a wide variety of skill rolls.  Why these eight factors have been chosen is not entirely clear, but there seems a bit of an affinity for the old D&D statistics in them.  Strength and Constitution (as Stamina) have direct mapping, with Intelligence, Charisma and Dexterity each divided into two Characteristics (respectively Intelligence and Perception, Communication and Presence, Dexterity and Quickness).

I’ve previously stated that these are just Virtues pretending to be something else, so why not make them something else?  Why not combine them into four, and use them as verbs in a verb-noun system? That would allow us to recombine the Art and Ability experience  tables.

I’d posit the following four verbs (Techniques, if you like): Know, Convince, Strive, Use. “Strive” is a bit of stretch for a useful word, but it includes all gross motor skills and endurance. “Use” is fine motor skills or tool use. “Know” is all learning and perception. “Convince” is all forms of social conflict. You can now increase your Strength by lifting weights: just advance your Strive.  You can now get cleverer by going to University.  Increase your Know.

The nouns are the skills.  You don’t have the vast slew current in the game, because we don’t try to map every minute you’ve ever lived, only the points where a dice roll might be needed to take control of a scene.  No-one cares about your Farming (sheep) 5.  Honestly, very few people really care if you Single Weapon (sword) is 7 or 8 in the current game.  You do, but the difference is swamped by the dice roll.

Say you are a blacksmith.  You choose that as one of your forms.  Imagine you have Know 0, C0nvince 1, Strive 3, Use 5, Blackmith 10, that means you are not particularly learned, or much of a haggler, but are good with tools. In your own area of interest, though, you can discuss, haggle and create like the dickens, because your skill checks are d+V+N, which means the huge weight you’ve put in your noun makes it easy to pass those checks. Also, note that it reduces the vast swing in likely outcome due to the die?

Now, the obvious counter-argument is “why not just put points in verbs all the time?” and the answer is the same as “Why not just put points in Techniques all the time?” The experience system makes it easier to improve a low score by a large amount that a high score by a large one.

I don’t see the noun list as being fixed. If you all want to pick “Coppersmithing” or “Herding walruses” then as your storyguide, I should take from that the idea that you really want me to tell stories where your success is dependent on being good at those things.  There would be a suggested set, which would look a lot like the current set, I imagine.  Note though that faeries already get to just make them up.

In terms of the nouns, I think you’d get a bonus if your noun was the narrower category of the opponent’s.  So, say I’m trying to find a poisoner in Naples before my rival does. I have “Know Naples” and she has “Know Italy”. I’d get a bonus on the contested roll.  I think we could have some fun with that.  You could have a knight NPC quickly made up with “knightly weapons” as his noun, but you’d get a benefit, when fighting him, your master duellist was “rapiers” and he would, in turn be in trouble against a person who had “sword of my forefathers”.  Of course, these last two would be in trouble if they didn’t have a rapier, or lost the sword of their forefathers.

December 2017 update

Until you actually use any characteristic on your sheet, it’s nebulous and can be traded around in play. This means that if you bought a few points in various things, and as you play your focus for the character becomes sharper, you can trade them back. Alternatively, it means you don’t need to spend all of your XP in the character design phase. If you want to design a basic Knight, you can just take the Basic Knight package and fill it out as the story progresses. This goes for skills, Arts, spells…whatever the troupe is happy with.  You don’t need to nail everything down before play. Play can be a collaborative process of character building, in the same way you are collaboratively building the world.

This may also go for covenants.  I doubt anyone honestly cares where all of those points go.

The one feature where trading something in requires troupe approval is Story Flaws/Hooks, because any SG worth their onions has has a sheet of these and has worked out how to use some of them during the projected life of the campaign. Pulling those back wastes their real-time work, and so it’s not allowed on the basis that you aren’t allowed to wreck the fun of other players.

Above the covenant design process, you could bracket a higher process where you build the world. Mythic Europe is one choice, and its the supported choice, but it’s not the only choice.

Confidence doesn’t matter and should be removed. I know it’s used for Infernalists: but I don’t care about that for a simplified game.

Bonisagus was reflecting a real, structural thing in the formation of the magical realm. Each magic tradition doesn’t need its own ruleset: they just use penalised versions of the standard Hermetic set. If they can do stuff that’s non-hermetic, that’s great: stat it out as if a Bonisagus had drawn it into the Hermetic system.  We have a great magic system: building dozens of tiny little ones around it is just weird.

In this I also include the other Realms.


4 replies on “A Simplified Version of Ars Magica

  1. I am about to finish an 18 month Trail of Cthulhu game, and then I have two months or so before a new baby removes me from gaming for a while. I considered running Ars as a short game for my prior Ars saga’s players, but the crunch put me off. I love the exercise of making spells, enchanted items, etc. but that’s not what is fun at the table. SO… a simpler Ars Magica is what I am mulling over. Currently I am thinking Wizard World looks like a good fit, a hack of Apocalypse World set in Mythic Europe with a few other bits stripped away for ease of play/less fussiness. Have you looked at that? I’m curious what you think. I look at the Ars6 discussion and I feel torn. I love 5th, but RUNNING 5th I want to be easier. Honestly, Hillfolk would have been FINE for the types of Ars saga I last had on hand.


  2. Interesting!

    As you might expect, you have some elements that I absolutely love, some that I hate, and some that fall somewhere close to the Tree Of I-See-Where-You-Are-Coming-From-But-I-Disagree… Of course, other people will feel the same way, but about other instances of loved-elements, hated-elements, and I-S-W-Y-A-C-F-B-I-D elements….

    Broadly, of course, you’re moving away from the high-crunch “gameworld-simulation” style of RPG & RPG-mechanic, toward the narrativist/dramatist, taking a few cues from some “generic” (setting-free, genre-free) mechanics (both high-crunch and low-crunch, I note with interest!) as you go. Many of your impulses seem to imply choices akin to those of WoD/Storyteller games (whose mechanics are, let us not forget, in the direct line of descent from ArM mechanics!)… simplifying the Arts, etc.

    It seems to me, however, that you don’t seem to be taking into account that character-building is in essence its own whole mini-game: making tough choices between two (or more) options, balancing and fine-tuning &c (also, spell-design, magic-item-design, &c can be minigames): many folks like these implicit minigames & associated crunch (others, of course, do not!).

    So you’re abandoning one set of interests (crunch, simulation), in favor of another (abstract, drama/narrative). Which is “better” is of course a matter of opinion or even mood (unless of course you’re Atlas Games, or whoever currently owns the IP, in which case you probably want to serve the largest / most-lucrative market).

    I don’t think you address the deeply character-driven, intentionally non-minmax approach adequately… Making *IN*obvious and *SUB*optimal choices should be one of the options! Things like “the obvious selection for an experienced player should be free and baked in” doesn’t address notions of “but I do NOT want my characters to have ‘the obvious choice’ pre-made for them.” On the other hand, I’m decidedly in agreement with the idea that rare V/F points, and even character-XPs, shouldn’t auto-spend onto “everyone gets/has/does this” sorts of things… maybe I’m just misunderstanding your brief phrasing, and we’re in 99% agreement… not sure.

    If you add a Flaw to the system, “Doesn’t have this Obvious Advantage”… you have merely substituted a rare disadvantage for a common advantage, for a net simplification of zero, that I can see…? I suppose it makes sense to have a baseline “norm” from which only variations-from-norm are noted onto the character-sheet, and from that perspective the “rare disadvantage” is the design-option to choose. Just remember: don’t go baking-in any assumptions that become “hidden assumptions” that are hard to vary!

    Your point “Virtues that unlock skills and abilities make no sense and should be removed” is one where I completely disagree: in a gameworld where (for example) genuine military skills are rare and gateway’ed by the world/society itself, having a Virtue as Gatekeeper makes perfect sense; I have long thought that Virtues such as “Veteran” and Flaws such as “Outlaw” provided much-more-flavorful ways to think about a character (who has Martial Abilities) than just writing down “Swords” and “Bows” on 2 lines of the character-sheet!

    Similarly for various other Special Snowflake skills/abilities (Second Sight, Sense Holy/Unholy, etc; many of these are Supernaturally Special Snowflake!) — if there’s not a very-limited pool of Special Snowflakes for players to choose between, then suddenly every character has every Special Snowflake feature (leading to a Special Blizzard?); and again, you don’t address the player who wants to go with the snowflake-free, grim&gritty, hard-bitten, “the specialness of MY snowflake is my lump-of-coal-ness” concept (and, presumably, “gritty” Mundane advantages in lieu of the supernatural ones).

    The more those choices get baked-in, the more homogenous this version of ArM becomes. Applesauce as cooked puree of apple, rather than chunks of apple… And while I personally like both kinds of applesauce, I confess to a deep preference for the chunky kind!


  3. I’ve only just come across this. I know I’m likely to need a lighter system to get started in Ars Magica, at least for magi, and you’ve given me some ideas.


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