Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ars Magica 3rd Edition at Two in the Morning

 Edit: I was reading Ars Magica 3rd edition last night at two in the morning. Sometime around three, I decided to blog some initial reactions, but I did not post them... so here you go.

Not playing, but reading the book. Here are some thoughts...

-The fact that WotC published this is causing me levels of cognitive dissonance that might actually result in permanent brain damage.

-In this book, one can see precursors to many Vampire: the Masquerade mechanics and concepts. (Though I think VtM was out by the time Ars hit the 3rd edition.) Many of the terms also show up in Mage: the Ascension. The book offers a little oWoD "prehistory," if you will.

-Perhaps it is because it is 2 AM, but I am finding Ars Magica to be quite dense and I am having difficulty making it stay in my brain.

-Simple roll vs. Stress roll seems to be a particularly tortured game mechanic.

-Damn, that cover is bad ass.

-Published by WotC.... yet questions and orders can be addressed to White Wolf, per the back cover....

-Back inside cover says this is the third and last edition. (Ars Magica 5th is sitting on the shelves at my LGS.) I guess it's kind of like how Changeling: the Dreaming was supposed to be the last Storyteller game... and then came Hunter, and Mummy, and Demon...

-Any game with a mechanic called Decrepitude Points is okay in my book.

-Advanced Character creation strikes me as the way to go.... the basic system isn't so much creation as it is "here's a ready made character...feel free to dinker around with it."

I'm not sure if my appetite for story-based games is big enough for something like this anymore. At the same time, this is a heavily story-based game (so it seems) without all the Joy Division and excerpts from Black Elk Speaks  that would become trade dress of ReinDOTHagen and his crew. This seems like something that I want to give a shot.

I recall one of my old gaming acquaintances saying that if you took the combat system from The Riddle of Steel and found a way to hook it up to the magic system from this game, you would have the Rolls-Royce of fantasy role-playing games. This is not something I ever intend to do, it's just food for thought. (Besides, most of you in this corner of the internet already award the Rolls-Royce title to B/X or whatever your pet edition is. Ha!)


  1. Each and every time I read Ars Magica 3rd Edition I wonder why D&D is still played. It is definitely my all time favorite fantasy game.

    It also has one of my favorite lines in an RPG book ever...

    "here you will find men who are not men, men who ride the wind and men who do not know the hearts or shapes of beasts."

    100% pure awesome.

  2. I was working for a long time on the perfect rpg magic system. Had the basic skeleton of it finally worked out when I saw Ars Magica on a store shelf. Picked it up. Crap, they'd already done it. I was crushed.

    Oh, well. I suppose it was good because it got that tinkering out of my system and I'm satisfied with a house-ruled S&W/1e/2e magic system now.

  3. Each and every time I read Ars Magica 3rd Edition I wonder why D&D is still played.

    Because people still like D&D. I can read B/X cover to cover and have an adventure ready in probably half the time it would take me to get through the Ars Magica rulebook....and even once I've got the rules down, AM strikes me as a game that is a bit more involved in terms of prep and maintenance, and sometimes I just don't feel like putting up with that.

    Make no mistake, this is still something I want to try... but it definitely feels less accessible than a lot of the fantasy games on my shelf, and I'm not referring just to D&D. I hope it is as much fun as it looks... hopefully this summer I'll get to find out.

  4. Yeah, I like Ars Magica, but I cannot say I have ever done more than dabble with it. Perhaps it is just too serious for my tastes, I am not sure. It could be that, like a lot of story-telling games, it takes itself a bit too seriously.

  5. I guess I like it to the point where, to me, its just as accessible and fun as D&D. Looking at the rulebooks 'size', the rules sections are not that much bigger than old school D&D. The rest is source material and atmosphere. Granted, Ars Magica is largely about its 'setting' and atmosphere but you can run it anyway you like.

    As far as being 'serious', I tend to run it very much like I'm describing old folktales. In some instances, I never directly say what country the PCs live in or who is king.

    See Jim Henson's 'The Storyteller' on DVD for example. That's how I run Ars Magica. And since I actually read a lot of folklore, running it on the fly has become simple.

  6. Oh please-please-please, check out 4th edition from Atlas. I've both run and played in 3rd edition and it's just soooooo...ugh!

    word verification: "leversa"

    Isn't that a word of power in Latin?

  7. I would have liked to see the version that WotC was planning to do before they sold the game to White Wolf. There was an initial announcement that the 3rd Edition would be a collection of three or four softcover booklets in a slipcase, very much like that incredibly beautiful and sturdy Rêve de Dragon slipcase that was published by Multisim in France a short while before.

    Sadly, it didn't happen.

    And the title Rolls Royce of RPGs is already taken. The German publisher Laurin used it in advertising of their multi-volume, faux-leatherette, hardcover edition of Rolemaster - in 1991.

  8. Fair enough- then we shall award it the title of DeLorean of RPGs. I hold DeLorean in higher regard, for reasons that should be obvious. :)

  9. I've never played Ars Magikca but I own it and have read it several times.

    In my opinion the dice/stats/trait/skills mechanics are way to complicated. The rules are not light (AT ALL) which make it an impossible game for my group. Only hard-core players need apply - and hard-coredness seems to run thinner with the years.

    That said, absolutely every other game element int he game is totally awesome.

    Decrepitude, wizard's twilight, certamen duels - the list of awesome goes on and on.

    I also love the mage/hero/grog party layout - lots of cool opportunities there.

    It is by far the coolest game I have never played. It would be awesome to take the whole setup and apply a rules-light system.