Deep Ars Magica mechanical nerdiness follows. If you read the blog for the folklore, see you next time, because this is as crunchy as it gets.

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.












24 replies on “Continued thoughts on a simplifed version of Ars Magica

    1. I do see the rightness of it, but can’t see how to do it and maintain the simplicity of the system at the same time. Clearly it’s something to think on, though…


  1. I really like the idea of the narrower noun having a bonus.

    In Regnum Christi I went a step further than verb+noun: everything is an aspect (like a Fate aspect but with a score) except a fixed list of topics (battle, love, castle, forest, medicina, etc.). The main topic applying to the action is the base score to which the player may add traits, tools or another topic by spending points.

    After all, virtues are just a fancy description + a modifier to some rolls depending on somewhat complex rules, why not get rid of the complex rules and just keep the description (fancier if possible, think “lycanthropy” VS “every full moon my inner beast take the best of me”) and the modifier.


  2. I like the idea of characteristics as skills. I think perception should be separate. But I suppose if you really want to play a short sighted genius then the appropriate flaw can be taken.

    I think academic abilities should be rigidly defined as they are taught in very structured ways. Part of the fun of arms magica is the way it ties into historical systems. When you study “medicine” it is not “treat wounds” it is Medicine as defined by “someone” in his master text “Latin Title”

    This is an example only. Please feel free not to tell me what the actual names are.


    1. I do see that there’s some stretch between a person’s power of perception and their intelligence. My concern is that Per doesn’t seem very useful in game, compared to Strength, Dexterity, or Intelligence. I have a similar problem with Presence.


          1. Whatever for?
            If you can’t sense that something is happening, how can your physical strength be of assistance?
            Perception+Awareness is probably the most rolled characteristic+ability in my local troupe.

            Yes, strength is nice for lugging things about, and can be useful in combat, but more important than Perception? I’ll have to disagree with you on that.


            1. One of our SG’s hates Awareness as a skill and finds it mostly anachronistic in the medieval setting. To him, it makes some sense for a hunter, or a scout in an active army, someone posted to a watchtower or maybe a spy, but for most grogs, an Awareness of more than 2 is really questionable. I can see his point, because for most professions, the kind of situational awareness it reflects is really a metagame construct to gain advantage in combat.


              1. Ah. And I’m used to the idea that without zanshin, you’re not a combatant, you’re prey.

                And to be honest, it’s not a terribly complicated thing to do. Most motorists apply low-level zanshin when driving I understand.

                (apologies for using a japanese term, the concept transfers, but takes a lot more words to describe in english)


                  1. It’s supposed to be learnable 😉

                    I’m not sure I’d accept zanshin as being part of the weapon skill – it’s transferable between weapons (even unarmed), and I’m told it’s also the purpose behind things like the tea ceremony. I’ve even met people claiming that the key to traditional haiku (meaning: created in the moment) is zainshin – awareness of the moment.

                    It’s also the attention that helps you notice that the person passing you in the street is tightening the muscles in his arms, telling you he’s about to attack. Or your ability to notice that those people are looking too intently at you. Or that this guy steps just a shade too close when attacking, opening him up to attack if your timing is good.

                    Is it related to weapon skills, certainly, but it’s much more about paying attention to your surroundings – as I understand it.


  3. I would adjust the target numbers– a more appropriate noun has a lower ease factor than a less appropriate noun. For the poisoner example, I might offer an EF of 9 for Genoa, and 11 for Italy. 🙂


      1. I like, and will borrow, exert. Yes…it does need lower Ease factors. I hope in the next few days to put up a post mapping current Abilities to the new system. It works really well on older characters…they are not optimal, but they are still functional because “Com+Bargain” still is understandably Verb + Noun. I need to look at character design, though.

        One big advantage is that if the abilities and arts are back on the same experience system, the initial buy has fewer pools. Currently you have Characteristic points, Virtue points, Ability points and Art/Spell points to spend when designing a character.

        In this system, Character, Ability and Art/Spell points are the same pool. I can’t rope Virtues in, really (although in the current system, 1 Virtue point equals a certain number of starting XP).

        Um. Actually, I’m saying I can’t do it, and I’ve not tried. I must think about that. If Virtues had an experience cost…you could have a single purchase currency at game start.

        That’s…I think that’s doable.You’d need some purchasing limits…

        It’s too late at night to work on it properly. I’ll look at it in the morning.


        1. Isn’t that moving towards GURPS? In GURPS, everything is handled via character points: Attributes, skills, advantages. disadvantages, wealth, expeience. Everything.


  4. So, mapping the Abilities across…

    You could just claim any of the current abilities as a noun. Self-nominating systems have that as a strength. They just absorb anything.

    The question is, what would I call these things if they were made from scratch. Let’s try to match these up. The verbs are :Convince, Exert, Know, and Use.

    Animal Handling: Generally I’d like you to pick an animal. If you are a knight, and work with horses, and only horses, I’d like you to pick that animal instead of being a vet.
    (Area) Lore: Just “Area”. You could Use ares to find resources. You could Convince Area, I suppose… Exert area makes little sense. Maybe running away from people through a city?
    Athletics: I like this as a general skill for all of the physical things people do. Running, jumping, swimming. Yes, I know people often didn’t know how to swim or ride, but frankly I’m not sure they need to be separate skills.
    Awareness: I hate this skill. It serves not function. Do you need the clue to progress? Then you get the clue. If the question is “Do you spot the guy wanting to kill you?” then that’s a combat skill.
    Bargain: I like it, but didn’t like that people were forced to take this to just do their jobs. Are you a blacksmith? Do you haggle? Why do you need a skill for that, separate to everything else you know, to sell nails?
    Brawl: I like it, but would merge it with some of the other combat skills.
    Carouse: I don’t know why this is different to either Charm or Ettiquette.
    Charm: I like this and would keep it, but I’d prefer you be able to say things like “Nobles” as a noun, rather than “Charm (nobles), Guile (nobles), Etiquette (nobles).”
    Chirurgy* I’d merge this with medicine. I know, historically, they were separate until the Victorian era. I’m not sure I care.
    Concentration: Remove.
    Craft (Type): I want each craft to include replated things, like bargaining.
    Etiquette: I’m not sure how this differs from Charm.
    Folk Ken: Again, this is the peasant version of Convince.
    Guile” A type of charm.
    Hunt: This is a profession pretending to be a separate skill.
    Intrigue: I’d argue this is also facet if Charm.
    Leadership: Hrrrrm….I need to think more on this.
    Legerdemain: I like this, but that could just be me. Could be a profession.
    (Living Language): I don’t like this as a skill. The failed roll is never interesting.
    Music: Again, is this a profession? What are you going to use the music -for-?
    (Organization) Lore: Just “Organization”
    Profession (Type): Crafts and professions are the same thing.
    Ride: If you are a knight this should not be a separate skill.
    Swim: I don’t think this skill has an interesting fail.
    Teaching: I’m not sure I like this skill existing.
    Artes Liberales* Is the success or fail interesting?
    Civil and Canon Law* Is the success or fail interesting?
    Common Law* Is the success or fail interesting?
    (Dead Language)* Too obscure?
    Medicine* I’d prefer Chirurgy and Medicine were combined.
    Philosophiae* Is the success or fail interesting?
    Theology* I need to think about this rather more…
    Code of Hermes* Is the success or fail interesting?
    Dominion Lore* Just “Dominion”
    Faerie Lore* “Just faerie”
    Finesse I’d like to work Finesse into spell levels.
    Infernal Lore* Just “infernal”
    Magic Lore* Just “magic” or some word meaning “magic”. Arcane?
    Magic Theory* Is the success or fail interesting?
    Parma Magica* I’d like this to emerge from your Art scores, not be a skill.
    Penetration Work into spell levels.
    (Bows, Great Weapon, Single Weapon, Thrown Weapon) I’d tend to combine to a single skill.

    SUPERNATURAL ABILITIES (Animal Ken, Dowsing, Enchanting Music, Entrancement, Magic Sensitivity, Premonitions, Second Sight, Sense Holiness and Unholiness, Shapeshifter, Wilderness Sense) Why are these skills, rather than magical effects which just work or don’t work? These are -just- really expensive virtues.

    Next post: time to simplify the terrible Virtue and Flaw list.


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