Sunday, 1 December 2013

Let Me Tell You A Little Something About... Ars Magica

Ars Magica is complicated as Hell.

Here’s the blurb from the beginning of the book:

"Dragons lair in the mountains, angels watch over the Church. Faeries dance in the forests and demons tempt men and women to their ultimate downfall. The magi of the Order of Hermes live in a world of mythic power, the world of Mythic Europe. Welcome to that world.
Welcome to Ars Magica."

What they neglected to welcome you to was a maths lesson.

Ars Magica is an incredibly old game – Maybe not as old as Dungeons and Dragons but this game was put to print three years after I was born. So at the ripe old age of 26 this game has been around for a bloody long time. Old  doesn’t nessicarily mean bad however… after all, the game seems to have (Ironically) picked up a bit of a cult following amongst gamers both old and new. It is also apparently one of the first RPG’s to use the Troupe  Gaming style where the ST/GM is swapped out every game for another member of the group and each player had multiple characters (Allowing a wizard who sees a rise in wolf attacks as nothing more then news he  didn’t need to be bothered to tell to stay in his laboratory working on a new spell to turn swords into ploughshares…)

Unfortunately, from the perspective of a first time player like myself muddling through character creation to see what happens it can also seem a bit like a brick wall. The game is designed around combining one number with another number (or more!) and adding other factors in like the size of an affected area or extending the duration of a spell’s length for example. The book can be a bit unclear if you don’t know what you’re already looking for and for me, that gives it the feel of a book written for people who already know the game from an older edition (we’re currently on 5th Edition, written in 1994!)

But.

Theres just something about the game which really grabs me. Theres a logic behind the maths that actually gives the setting a reason for being that way. For example – do you know why Wizards have Staves or Wands? I do – Its because a Wand can give you a bonus to repelling things, a bonus to projectile spells like fireballs or even a bonus to destroying or controlling things at a distance. But also, what is your wand made of? Wood can give you a bonus to controlling both living and dead wood, silver and coral provide a significant bonus against lycanthropes and demons respectively… Having put a lot of thought into what your wand or your sword or whatever looks like can provide a wealth of in character bonuses. And I am all about that level of detail.

The spell system is complicated… but like the rules for Item creation they can be very customisable. Magic is done by combining a Technique (such as ‘Creation’ or ‘Control’) with a Form (Such as ‘Fire’, ‘Water’ or ‘Animal’). Specialising in a wide range Forms or Techniques allows you to have a significant width of magical capability whereas focusing on a Form or Technique gives you a depth of power. Someone with a single form like Ignis (Latin for Fire) but a vast number of Techniques would allow them a great deal of things they could do with Fire… Or that same person focusing entirely on the technique of Muto (Latin for Change) could pick up very low levels of almost every Form and allow them to manipulate almost anything.

I am a huge fan of customisation in my characters and that is damn cool in my opinion.

One shame is that because of the huge amount of mechanics the book holds the setting suffers somewhat. Its not a huge problem for people who already know the game, but for someone breaking into the game without any knowledge of it it can be a little disheartening. The book has a lot of (out of print, as far as I can tell) supplements however which can fix that a little.

That’s my first opinions of it, anyway.

Project: Redcap are an Ars Magica community. Check out their website to learn more about the game!