This is a working document, comments and suggestions are welcome.

 Character Types

In a full game of Ars Magica, players develop several characters, and play different ones in each story, so that each gets a chance to play their magus. In this story, roles will not circulate, for simplicity’s sake.


Magi are the most powerful class in this game, but they have limitations. The most significant is that magi have the Gift, the ability to use magic, and the price for this power is that normal people cannot ever find them trustworthy. Servants who work with magi for an extended period can become inured to this effect, and so most magi keep trusted companions, who aid them. The other limit is time: the more time magi spend away from their laboratories, the more slowly their power grows. Again, they employ trusted servants to see to their less pressing affairs.


Normal humans who act as interpreters between magical and mundane society. There are many types of companions, but in this adventure, a noble lady skilled a diplomacy, a merchant skilled at commerce, and a retired thief skilled at criminal acts are available.


Soldiers and servants who support the characters in the main story. Scene by scene, any grog can be claimed by any player, to keep them involved when their magus or companion is off stage. Each magus is served by a shield grog, a grog warrior of greater than average skill, with better than average equipment, who acts as a bodyguard. Sentimental players should note that grogs die often.

Basic rolls

For tests of your character’s strength, intelligence, or other innate capacities, you make a roll, add the bonus on your sheet, and hope for the best. A test of average difficulty requires a total of 6 or more. Rolls against your character’s personality traits work the same way.

For tests of the Abilities your character has learned, you roll, add the number on your sheet, and then add an extra 1 if the character’s specialisation is involved. The specialisation is listed after your roll bonus. An average task, under stress, requires a total of 6 or more.  

In calm situations, the roll is a single ten sided dice, with 0 counted as 10. In stressful situations, if you roll a 1, roll again and double. If you roll a 0, something untoward has happened. Your roll counts as zero, and you must roll again. If you roll a second 0, you character has been harmed in some way. In mystical places, or when using vis (stored magical energy) when you reroll, you roll multiple dice, so your chances of seriously harming your character are greatly increased.

Physical Combat

For each method of attack your character has you have four bonuses:

  • Initiative – how fast you are.
  • Attack – your likelihood of hurting the enemy.
  • Defense – your likelihood of parrying attacks.
  • Damage – how much harm you do.

You roll a dice and add your Initiative. Compare  it to the enemy. The winner attacks first. If you have a missile weapon and the enemy does not, you win automatically.

The attacker and defender roll, and each adds the appropriate bonus. If the defender’s total is higher, no damage is done. If the Attacker’s total is higher he has a choice. Either he can deal damage immediately, or he can carry over the amount by which his total exceeded the defender’s to his next attack.

If the Attacker choses to do damage, roll and add the Damage bonus. Subtract the defender’s Soak score, which represents toughness and armor. The compare to the Wound chart.

Notes for combatants

  • Magical healing is rare and expensive. Grogs are neither.
  • The magi are the heavy artillery: your role is probably to defend them.
  • Minor injuries are unlikely to prevent a magus casting a spell.

The magic  arts

 In this game, magi develop their power in the fifteen Arts of Magic. The Arts are divided into five Verbs and ten Nouns. Depending on his innate connection to magic, and his studies, a magus is strong in a few Arts, and weak in the remainder. Each spell is designed by adding the score of a Verb and a Noun, plus some other things. These sums have already been done for you, so on your character sheet you will instead just have a number you need to roll to cast each spell.

In the full version of the game, players use the Latin term for each Art, to add flavor to the game. In this scenario, English terms are used instead, to make the game play faster.

The Verbs are: Change, Control, Create, Destroy and Know.

The Nouns are Air, Animal, Earth, Fire, Human Body, Images, Magic, Mind, Water, Wood.

So, a character casting a bolt of flame at an enemy uses “I Create Fire”, while one commanding a the enemy’s horse to turn on him uses “I Control Animals”. A magus trying to make the enemy’s heart explode uses “I Destroy Human Body”.

Your character sheets have spell menus, which tell you which Arts your character is strong in.


Magi can cast three different sorts of spells. In order of power, these are called rituals, formulas and spontaneous spells. All spells can be made easier using a precious and rare substance, called vis, as fuel. This makes vis the currency of the Order.

Ritual magic is extremely powerful, very risky, and tremendously expensive. It can break the rules which limit other forms of magic.  Your characters will not use ritual magic during this scenario, with a couple of exceptions. See your sheets for details.

Formulaic spells are the most powerful a character regularly uses. A formulaic spell takes a great deal of time to develop, but once learned the magus can always cast it successfully in non-stressful situations. The player of a mage under stress needs to roll against a target number given on the character’s sheet. This roll can be made easier in two ways.

  • Before the roll, the player can announce his character is destroying vis. For every point spent, the player adds 2 to the dice roll.
  • If the player missed the roll by 10 or less, the spell then works normally, but the character gains a box of Fatigue. See your sheet for details.

Spontaneous magic is the weakest but most flexible form of magic. The character designs a spell, the rolls to see if his powers are sufficient to manifest the effect. See your spell menu for suggested spontaneous effects. Negotiate other effects with the rest of the players. Spontaneous spells are more powerful when the character chooses to Fatigue themselves while spellcasting.

A Note on Magic Resistance

Your character has an Ability called Shield Against Magic which allows him to shrug off magical attacks. Other mystical beings have a similar sort of defence. The pool of power the spell contains is split between what the spell does, and how hard it smashes against magical defences. A magus that throws a sharpened stone at an enemy has a far better chance of penetrating magical defences than one which throws a boulder.


2 replies on “Ars Magica : Simplified Introduction

  1. In several places, you mention “this scenario”. Is there an actual scenario, or are you planning to write one? It seems like the scenario would be quite useful for learning the game and so I’d love to read it.


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