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A History of Ars Magica

Ars Magica was the brainchild of Lion Rampant, a small game company in Northfield, MN. Partners Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein•Hagen were the prime designers of the system but received considerable help from a talented staff. (Rumor has it that Jonathan's name is always listed first in exchange for Mark getting Rein• added to his last name.) In 1988, Ars Magica received the Gamer's Choice Award for Best New Role-Playing Game from the RPGA.

In the autumn of 1989, Jonathan Tweet left Lion Rampant to pursue other interests. In the spring of 1990, John Nephew left and formed Atlas Games, which published some Ars Magica supplements under license. Lion Rampant struggled financially and eventually merged with White Wolf Magazine, forming the company White Wolf. Later White Wolf would change its name to White Wolf Game Studio.

Meanwhile, White Wolf continued producing Ars Magica products for the 2nd edition of the game. In 1992 White Wolf released the third edition of Ars Magica, ushering in their new vision of the game and world it is set in. This world was much darker than the original, and emphasised demonic enemies. While some long-time ArM fans disliked the new version, it brought many new players to the game and an increase in supporting material for ArM.

In January of 1994, White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast announced that the Ars Magica product line had been purchased by Wizards of the Coast (WotC). Jonathan Tweet officially joined WotC in May of 1994 as head of their roleplaying game division.

Wizards of the Coast produced one supplement for Ars Magica third edition, and two revisions of previously published material for Ars Magica fourth edition. The fourth edition itself fell behind schedule, but was due to be published in March 1996.

On December 5th 1995, with almost no warning, WotC announced that it was going to 'concentrate on its core business' (selling trading card games, mainly Magic: The Gathering). As a result, all development of RPGs was stopped, and many of the RPG staff, with no lines to work on, were laid off, although some moved to new positions within the company. This decision affected Everway and SLA Industries, as well as Ars Magica.

For a few days, largely due to Wizards of the Coast's PR machine being caught on the hop, it wasn't clear whether the games had any future at all. It soon became clear that WotC was serious about finding new homes, and a number of bids materialised. Lisa Stevens tried to organise a package to save all the RPGs, but this proved to be impossible, and she dropped out. This left a group organised by Wade Racine, the former WotC Ars Magica Line Developer, and Atlas Games in competition for the line.

On March 6th 1996 Atlas Games and Wizards of the Coast announced that Atlas had bought all rights to the line. The long-awaited fourth edition was released at the beginning of December 1996, and the first printing, which Atlas had anticipated would last about a year, sold out in a month. Since then, Atlas has steadily released further supplements, and the future of the game, after four editions and as many publishers, once again seems secure.

Copyright 1997 David Chart and Andy Young

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