[Ars Magica] Recommend me an edition?

edited December 2013 in Story Games
If I wanted my little group of gamers to get into Ars Magica (or, more precisely, a Medieval Witches & Wizardry Done Right sort of game, if you know of others), what edition would you recommend? We are simple-minded OSR folks , so we tend to prefer short, simple rules that don't require 10 million splat books to be enjoyable. Clarity of presentation and elegance of rules is a definite plus.


  • Apparently 2nd Ed is the hipster fave. Have you looked at Into the Odd? It is OSRish and has a magical witch-hunterish feel (but is not really "Medieval Witches & Wizardry Done Right"). ASSH has a witch sub-class. Someone over on G+ is doing an Apoc World Ars M hack in the AW community.
  • edited December 2013
    I think 5th is much more streamlined, consolidated and all-in-all easier to play than 4th or 3rd. I cant say anything about 2nd or 1st. I played 3rd for a long time, skipped 4th and happily changed to 5th.

    While the quality of the source books is pretty good you dont need a thing other than the core rule book.

    The not-so-simple stuff (that involve some number crunching and maybe a chart or two) are the long term projects of the magi (that dont get resolved in action scenes anyway), it never bothered me much.

    EDIT: I really want to try Ben Robbins Kingdom in the Ars Magica setting. It seems like a game to jump directly of the good parts of an Ars Magica campaign. :)
  • 5th has much more coherent rules in many ways, but there's a different formula for just about everything. Based on your OSR preferences, I'd go for 2nd edition and fill in the blanks on your own. I've played every edition but 4th, and 2nd was the one that held together the best in my experience. I liked a lot of 3rd as well, but 2nd is more accessible and streamlined.
  • 5th is by far the most playable version of the game in my opinion. 4th E was probably the worst.

    From the developer notes for 5th Edition.

    "The Ars Magica Fourth Edition combat rules were, it
    must be admitted, broken. They had the consequence
    that, the more armor you wore, the more damage you
    took. This was, needless to say, not the intention.
    Other quirks of the weapon statistics meant that,
    according to ArM4, the mightiest force on the
    medieval battlefield was a naked man with a stick.
    Fixing this was up at the top of the list of priorities
    for ArM5."
  • ArM5 has coherent and consistent rules, as well as a strong focus on mining medieval belief and sources for those interesting bits that turn into stories.
  • edited December 2013
    5th edition Ars Magica is smooth and elegant, a vast improvement over 4th edition. And the sheer volume of numbers to be allocated and crunched eventually drove me away. I had a bit of an epiphany, really. We'd had a saga running for a couple of years, with some problems but also some good stuff. And this NPC magus was shaping up to be the villain of the piece, so I thought I'd better stat him up in case the players decided to get mechanical with him, and what with wizard PCs not being easily constrained by plot due to their eldritch powers. Then I found my self putting off statting him up, winging his stats during his appearances for more than half a year. And then finally the true horror of why I'd been putting it off dawned on me:

    Statting him up properly would require me to first distribute some five hundred points in scores of different boxes across some half a dozen different categories, stopping along the way to check in some cases if his total values in three different stats summed up to allow him access to stuff in a fourth category. This would leave me with a 25-years old magus. AND THEN the system would, in dead earnest, like me to age him from 25 to his actual age of 70 by distributing an extra 30 points per year, year by year, all the way up to seventy, and also making an aging roll, taking into account the strength of his longevity ritual, for every year from 35 to 70.

    At this moment, I realized that if I had a choice between statting op Dietrich Eulenauge and digging my own eye out with a fork, I'd probably stat him up. But I'd think about it. We wound up the saga with a grand climax within a month or two, and I stubbornly ad-libbed him all the way to the end. When someone mentioned the possibility of starting another saga, my laugh was more than slightly hysterical. I left Ars Magica and I'm never ever coming back.

    Ahem. Having played my way from 2nd to 5th, and based on your stated preferences, I heartily recommend 2nd edition.
  • I see e23 and paizo sell a bunch of 2nd edition supplements, but not the core book. Is there any way to get it?
  • I love that phrase, "In case the players decided to get mechanical with him."

    What I'm gathering here is that 5e is generally quite solid, but a lot of folks really dig on 2e as well. I'll check 'em both out. Thanks!
  • 4th edition can still be gotten as an official free pdf, here: http://e23.sjgames.com/item.html?id=AG0204
  • 2nd ed comes up on ebay fairly frequently
  • The setting is cool. One of the things that's really interesting about AM is that between troupe style play and the centrality of the Covenant as the main character of the story it doesn't play much like any other RPG I can think of.
  • I successfully ported it to Heroquest, and the few sessions we ran using those mechanics worked like, well, magic.

    5th edition is solid mechanically, as it nails down ambiguities inherent to earlier editions. However, it also greatly expanded "weight" of the rules and produced a shit-ton of exception-based mechanics. Ultimately, your roll a d10 to resolve conflict mechanic is buried under a giant list of formulae for whatever you're trying to do. The base Hermetic magic system becomes sort of a vanilla default in light of dozens of magical sub-systems grafted on via House-specific secrets, ancient magic, cult practices, and different traditions.
  • I successfully ported it to Heroquest, and the few sessions we ran using those mechanics worked like, well, magic.
    Ding ding, we have a winner.

    I mean, seriously: most people probably want either the cool Medieval setting and campaign concept, or the GURPS-esque rules system, with the latter probably being a minority. Sure, you can get by with the combination by ignoring the rules a lot in the way trad games encourage, but you could also just port the game to a less bothersome rules set that'll actually leave you some time to enjoy the medieval cast of thousands, saint feasts, ancient magical lore, faeries and whatever else. Heroquest is an excellent choice for this purpose, very commendable - fits the Ars much better than it fits Glorantha, even :D

    (I have a bit of an Opinion on the matter right now, having observed a bunch of friends messing about with Ars - 4th edition I think - for the last few months. It is emphatically not a game you want to get into as written unless the group is very committed and skilled with roleplaying games. It requires an unique combination of historical knowledge, artistic commitment to setting-immersion, and accounting skills to actually enjoy the math. Any group can attempt to play it, but I never see anybody achieving a coherent creative agenda unless they drift the heck out of the game.)
  • I really want to try Ben Robbins Kingdom in the Ars Magica setting. It seems like a game to jump directly of the good parts of an Ars Magica campaign. :)
    We did something very much like that at Go Play NW. I spun off a separate thread about it.
  • edited January 2014
    I liked the Ars Magica setting, having a slate of characters, the covenant, and the general magic concept; these are all things I like to port to other games. The hideousness of large crunchy formulae that would intrude into every act of play was just too much, though. Even improving a character, a normally enjoyable thing in most games, became a tedious chore requiring a few hours of crunching. And spontaneous magic, a very cool idea, was hampered by rules that undermined its effectiveness. I'll never play the system again, although I do appreciate it for the many cool and innovative ideas it brought forth.
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