Section 2 - Frequently Asked Questions For Fifth Edition

The Fifth Edition of Ars Magica was first published in November, 2004 by Atlas Games and is currently in print.

Questions About the Rules

There have been some general questions about the rules and their status. Since these questions don't fit into any of the more-specific categories, they will be addressed here.

Are there errata for Fifth Edition?

Yes. They are posted on the Atlas Games Web site.

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Why has (rule X) been removed from Fifth Edition?

Many of the rules that people say were "left out" were not found in the Fourth Edition rule book, either. They came from one of the many Fourth Edition supplements. It's not realistic to expect a single 240-page rule book to include a full set of basic rules plus the "best of" several dozen ArM4 supplements. The basic rules for ArM4 took up over 270 pages. (Most of the rules from the larger Fourth Edition rule book were made to fit in the smaller Fifth Edition book through a combination of more concise writing and a more efficient graphic design.)

There are a few instances where something was present in the basic Fourth Edition rules but was cut from Fifth - the Faerie-Raised Merinita Virtue and weapon stats for crossbows are two examples. These were editorial decisions. The rules that were cut were either too specialized, too complicated, or both to get a thorough treatment within the space and development schedule of Fifth Edition. Rather than give a poor treatment to these subjects now, they were deferred to a future supplement where they can be done right.

Many of the popular rules from Fourth Edition - laboratory customization, Hermetic breakthroughs, mystery cults, advanced combat rules, and so on - will probably be revised and updated for Fifth Edition in some future supplement. Keep an eye on the upcoming supplements from Atlas Games.

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I need an official ruling on (X)

First, bear in mind that this entire FAQ is unofficial. The only rules clarifications that are unequivocally official are the Fifth Edition Errata. The Line Editor does answer rules questions but it's unclear whether his posts to mailing lists and discussion forums are always "official."

This question seems to come up most often in the official Atlas Games discussion forum. It may seem at first perfectly reasonable to ask for official rulings in an official forum, but I actually find this request rather irksome, for two reasons.

First, asking for an official ruling could be seen as leaving the rest of the player community out of the discussion. Only the Ars Magica Line Editor is really qualified to give official rules answers. There are plenty of other people who are experienced with the game, understand the rules quite thoroughly, may be able to answer your question quite clearly and easily. One of the great things about Ars Magica is its highly productive fan community. If one is posting a question to a community forum, I submit that courtesy suggests one be prepared to accept a community answer. If you really think the player community can't possibly help you and only the Line Editor's answer will do, then it would save our time and yours if you addressed your request directly to the Line Editor in the first place (that is, by private e-mail). (In other news, the FAQ maintainer gets a flogging from the Line Editor, whose inbox is suddenly flooded with rules requests). But see my next point.

Second, Atlas Games is a small company and its staff don't have unlimited time to field rules questions. John Nephew and David Chart (the current Ars Magica Line Editor) have been generous with their time and do make it a point to participate in online discussions and to answer questions. However, to expect them to personally and promptly answer every single question, is probably not very realistic. The way the community generally operates is that one or more knowledgeable players will chime in with an answer to a rules question. Others may add supporting or dissenting opinions, a discussion may ensue, and a consensus may emerge. This process can yield correct answers to about 95% of all rules questions. For the rare 5% where the community isn't able to provide a clear answer, the Line Editor has been pretty good about stepping in to settle the issue. The key point is that about 95% of rules questions can be resolved without recourse to that authority.

Finally, speaking of authority, it seems many people who ask for "official rulings" are trying to win rules arguments they're having with other members of their gaming groups. I'm sorry to break it to you, but even an official answer may not be good enough to carry the argument in your favor. Gamers are well known for modifying the rules to suit their tastes, and if your fellow players are not listening to a given rule interpretation from you, who's to say they'll listen to the same intrepretation from the Line Editor? If you want help with a rules argument, just ask for it - simply say, "my players and I disagree on X, can you help?" The community will almost certainly be able to shed light on the matter and that may help your group reach a consensus.

--Andrew Gronosky

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Can one of the authors or playtesters leak details of (upcoming supplement)?

In a word, no. Authors and playtesters enter a legally binding non-disclosure agreement with Atlas Games. If one of them were to leak details about a product before it was published, he or she would be hung, drawn, and quartered.

This question seems to come up occasionally on the mailing lists. It's true that several Ars Magica authors are regular posters to the list, but that doesn't mean they will let anything slip. Sorry.

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Why was (X) changed in (new edition/new supplement)? I liked it better before, and can see no reason for the change. What was the author thinking?

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

If you're unhappy about something, by all means feel free to express your sentiments; however, you should not expect the author(s) or editor to personally answer your complaints. They might not want to. Arguing with fans is not fun.

This is not to say that authors don't listen to feedback. In my experience, they do. Obviously, you'll get farther with polite and well-reasoned criticism than with a mad tirade.

- Andrew Gronosky

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Characters, Abilities, Virtues and Flaws

These questions cover roughly chapters 2-5 of the ArM5 rules, plus the character sheet.

Why are something called "Body Levels" listed on the character sheet? What are "Body Levels?"

That's an editorial mistake. Body Levels were the way combat damage was recorded in Fourth Edition; they are no longer used in Fifth Edition. There is a corrected version of the character sheet made by Patrick Murphy of Mad Irishman Productions. You may download the revised sheet from the Atlas Games Web site.

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How does the Faerie Magic Ability (on the Merinita template character, p. 27) work?

This is a mistake according to the Fifth Edition errata. In the core rules, the Ability of Faerie Magic does not exist.

However, in Houses of Hermes: Mystery Cults, Faerie Magic is indeed an Ability possessed by members of House Merinita. It's explained on page 88 of that supplement.

If you're not using HoH: Mystery Cults in your game, then simply substitute another Ability of your choice.

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Are the Minor Story Virtues, like Blackmail and Animal Companion, really Flaws?

The short answer is yes.

Flaws in Fifth Edition are not just things that hinder or limit a character. They are also things that can motivate a character to get out of the covenant and go participate in stories. At first, this seems strange to a lot of readers. Try looking at it this way. A player who chooses those Flaws for his character is making an offer to the storyguide - "I'm putting something in my character background that can be used as a story hook." That enhances the game for everyone. As a reward, the game offers an extra minor Virtue.

Depending on how evil your storyguide is, all of the "benefits" of those Flaws can definitely be made more trouble than they're worth. That is not necessarily the intent, but if you're worried about the balance concerns of a Flaw that has significant benefits, be assured: your character can be made to pay for them. Again and again, if necessary.

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Do Virtues that affect the way a character gains experience points - Wealthy, Secondary Insight, Elementalist, and so on - affect starting experience points?

Wealthy affects the starting experience points for a character as noted on p. 31 under "Later Life." Note that magi are not allowed to take the Wealthy Virtue according to the Virtue's description.

As to the other Virtues, David Chart posted this explanation to the Berkeley mailing list:

"This is the problem, and the reason why those Virtues don't affect normal character generation.

If you want the benefit, use Ridiculously Detailed And Obscenely Slow Character Generation -- run your apprentice through all fifteen years of apprenticeship. That way you have enough information to apply the Virtues."

Without knowing exactly what your character was studying at each season of apprenticeship and from what source, there is really no way to know how many bonus experience points should be applied.

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Does the Puissant Ability Virtue affect what the character can teach and write? Does Puissant Magic Theory let a character use more vis in the lab?

The errata make this more clear: "You are particularly adept with one Ability, and add 2 to its value whenever you use it. Note that you do not, in general, use an Ability when learning it, teaching it, or writing about it."

Therefore, Puissant Magic Theory would allow a magus to use more vis than usual in the lab, but Puissant Ability would not affect teaching, reading, or writing.

Puissant Ability does not actually change the character's Ability score, so it has no effect on the number of experience points needed to improve the Ability, and it does not reduce the maximum starting Ability score for a new character (p. 31).

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How exactly does the Fast Caster Virtue work?

The name of the Virtue is a bit confusing. It has nothing to do with the "fast-casting" option for spontaneous spells (p. 83). All the Virtue does is give you a +3 to Initiative rolls when you cast spells in combat.

Normally when you are casting spells in combat, you roll initiative like everyone else. Spells have no weapon initiative modifier (they're not weapons) so your spell's initiative bonus is just your Qik + Enc. If you have the Fast Caster Virtue, you add an extra +3 to that.

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What are the statistics for a shapeshifter (such as a Bjornaer magus or a character with the Shapeshifter Virtue) in beast form?

Official rules for this are given in Houses of Hermes: Mystery Cults (page 23). If you don't have that supplement or aren't using it in your Saga, then you'll need to come up with your own rules for this situation.

In case you didn't know, you can get the stats for a dozen mundane beasts as a free PDF download from Atlas Games.

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Has the social effect of the Gift changed in Fifth Edition?

Definitely - but the only definite change is that Parma Magica now blocks the social penalties of other magi's Gift.

The social effects of the Gift are explained on pages 75-77. A lot more text is devoted to explaining the Gift than has been done in recent editions, and the description of the social penalties of the Gift is harsh and unequivocal. This has led many veteran players, who had interpreted the Gift's effects more generously, to regard the rules as changed (and these players generally think the change is for the worse). Other people say the description of the Gift in Fifth Edition matches the way they've always played it.

So, the answer depends on how you played the Gift before Fifth Edition came out. If you think the effects of the Gift have changed for the worse, don't feel forced into a different intepretation just because a new edition came out. You can always overrule the book.

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Spells and Spellcasting

These questions cover parts of Chapter 7 and all of Chapter 9 of the Fifth Edition.

Shouldn't there be a die roll for non-fatiguing spontaneous magic?

No. The rules on p. 81 are correct and are not a misprint. Non-fatiguing spontaneous spells are magical effects a magus can produce safely, easily, and consistently. If there were a die roll, it would encourage players to cast their non-fatiguing spells over and over again, hoping for a lucky die roll to get an unusually powerful effect.

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What is the fast-casting speed roll (p. 83) for?

You do not need to roll initiative to fast-cast a spell. You can fast-cast at any time, usually in response to something bad happening like getting attacked or having a spell cast at you. You can do this even at the start of battle before your first turn has come up yet. If you fast-cast, that's basically a free action and it does not stop you taking another action, even casting another spell, that combat round.

However, while you can attempt a fast-cast spell at any time, you aren't always fast enough to actually defend against the attack. That's what the fast-casting speed roll is for: to determine if you fast-cast the spell in time for it to do any good. As noted on p. 83, if you fail the speed roll, you can choose to abort the spell, which is probably a good idea because there is no point in risking fatigue loss or a botch if it's too late for your spell to protect you.

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Isn't there any way for a magus to create permanent magical effects?

In the basic Fifth Edition rules, there are two ways to get a permanent magical effect.

First, just about any effect can be made permanent via an enchanted device. One way to do this is to make a "constant effect device" as explained in the sidebar on p. 99. For instance, to turn someone permanently into a frog, you could make an enchanted device that attaches to the victim, say a collar or cloak, with a constant effect. Then design the effect so it can only be activated or deactivated by you ("Effect Use", p. 99) and build in a Requisite so the item changes along with the wearer, becoming part of the animal form. Then, if you manage to get someone to put on the item (and it penetrates his magic resistance), poof! he's a frog, he cannot voluntarily change back, the item can't fall off, and the effect does not expire. Of course, you had to spend one or more seasons in the lab to make the item, which is a big investment just to turn one person into a frog. Also, the item would cause Warping as a continous effect (p. 167).

The other way to get a permanent effect is with a Momentary Creo Ritual as explained on p. 112. Some people are a bit confused by this, so here is re-phrased explanation. Normally a Momentary spell happens and then is gone: if you conjure an apple with Momentary duration, an apple flickers into existence and then the spell wears off and it flickers back out. As a special exception, if you use a Ritual, then the apple would become real and non-magical during that moment, and it would act like a non-magical apple when the Momentary duration wore off. Non-magical apples keep existing, so the apple would be "permanent" and indeed it could not be dispelled.

Note that a Momentary spell can have lasting effects even if its duration is very brief. If I blast a pig carcass with a Momentary Creo Ignem spell, then the carcass is going to get roasted and stay roasted after the spell expires. Likewise, if I overcooked the pig and want to get rid of it with a Momentary Perdo Animal spell, then the spell destroys the carcass but the carcass stays destroyed after the spell wears off.

The Mysteries: Revised Edition includes some new options for magi who've been Initiated into certain mysteries, including a way to create permament effects.

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Is temporary, magically-created food nourishing?

This has been discussed at length and the rules seem to support more than one interpretation. This question has a long history as the rules for creating things with magic, and how "real" those magically-creating things will be, have gradually changed since First and Second Edition.

One of the main threads on this discussion on the official Ars Magica Forum is:

The first thing to say is that food created using a ritual (CrHe, CrAn, CrAq) is real, permanently, and behaves like mundane food in every way. The rules are clear on this point and there is strong consensus about food created through rituals. The question is what happens when a character tries to subsist on food that created by a non-ritual spell.

Next, some relevant excepts from the rules:

Strictly speaking, these two references contradict one another. The CrHe guidelines do not say non-ritual food is not permanently nourishing, they say it's not nourishing at all. There are, at present, no official errata to resolve the contradiction.

Opinions in the community seems to be divided approximately equally between three choices:

  1. Magically created food is nutritious for as long as it lasts, and if a character fully digests the food before its duration expires, then he suffers no ill effects when the spell ends.

    The rules don't explicitly say this is possible, and in several places they seem to imply that it's not. This option should be considered more of a house rule than an interpretation of the rules-as-written.

    The principle is that magically-created things can have effects on the mundane world that outlast the spell's duration. A magically conjured horse leaves hoofprints on the ground, a magically created fire can burn down a house, so logically, magically created food should have its normal effects on a body after being fully digested. After all, once digested, the food is gone anyway, so its disappearance may not matter.

    There is a precedent in ArM5 for a magically-created substance being able to sustain life without need for a ritual: the spell Chamber of Spring Breezes (page 125) explicitly states that it creates breathable air. It could be considered inconsistent that non-ritual magic can create breathable air, but not nourishing food. However, things may not be that simple.

    Someone very knowledgeable about medieval medicine might be able to say whether, in the Medieval Paradigm (with a big "P"), food and air merely nourish the body or whether they are actually converted into bodily humors or something; the FAQ maintainer is not qualified to discourse on that subject so he'll offer no conclusion one way or another. It is quite possible that food and air are used by the body in very different ways, so the ability of magic to create breathable air but not nourishing food may not be inconsistent at all.

    This interpretation (as stated above, it's more of a house rule) would have significant effects on play. Magi would not really need to grow or buy food at their covenants if a Moon-Duration, non-ritual spell can create food that is nourishing for all practical purposes. This has implications for both the economics of covenants, and for the fantasy flavor of the setting. On one hand, such a ruling could open the door to abuse if magi decide to make a living selling magically-created wine or foodstuffs. On the other, it makes a lot more sense for magi to take up residence in the midst of a tangled forest or in a lonely tower on top of a mountain if they don't have to worry about where their groceries come from.

  2. Magically created food is not nourishing at all (unless created by a ritual).

    This essentially is interpreting the CrHe guidelines on page 136 to be correct (" created is only nutritious if the creation is a ritual...") and to overrule the sentence on page 77 that says "...[magical] food only nourishes for as long as its duration lasts, and someone who has eaten it becomes extremely hungry when the duration expires."

    One advantage of this approach is that the Troupe doesn't have to worry about difficult questions coming up in play. If characters try to live solely on magical food, it's pretty clear what would happen (malnourishment, weakness, eventual death).

    This interpretation is consistent with the legacy of past Ars Magica editions, where magically-created things of all kinds (water as well as food) were ephemeral and in vague ways partly unreal.

    The drawback, mainly, is that under this rule magi can't use magically-created food to skip more than a few meals in a row. This could be seen as a hindrance to adventuring magi, especially those who undertake long journeys into desolate areas. Some troupes may not want to bother with magi being tied down to details such as where their next meal is coming from.

  3. Magically-created food is fine as long as the spell lasts and causes a problem when the spell ends.

    The section on page 77 is a lot longer and more detailed than the rule on page 136, and this interpretation can be seen as giving more weight to the page 77 rules.

    This interpretation immediately leads to another question: what sort of problem does the character suffer when the magical food expires?

    The answer may depend on how much normal food, compared to magical food, the character ate in a given period. The rules on page 77 say that the character becomes "extremely hungry;" it's not clear whether this implicitly assumes the character had eaten only magical food for a considerable length of time, or whether it's meant to imply extreme hunger is some kind of side effect of eating any magical food. (An extreme interpretation is that extreme hunger must result from eating one magical pea amid an otherwise mundane diet; though people who read the rules that way generally seem to prefer a house-rule "fix" rather than actually playing them that way.)

    Some players treat the magical food as never having existed, once its duration expires. The character is treated exactly as if he had not eaten it. If this had been one meal, several days ago (and the food had a Duration of Moon) then the character may not even notice; if he had subsisted entirely on magical food for weeks, then he would be severely weakened by hunger or might even die of starvation.

    Others take a less scientific approach and say that if the character ate (a sufficient amount of) magical food, he becomes supernaturally hungry when the spell ends. Presumably he needs to eat approximately as much real food as he had consumed in magical food, all at once. This has more of a fantastic feel, and some players prefer it for that reason.

    It has been pointed out that feeding a character on magical food could be a subtle form of attack (causing malnutrition or starvation when the spell ends). Opinions are divided, though, whether that's an abuse of the rules or a great story seed for some devious NPC plot. In either case, feeding magical food to magi would probably not work, as their Magic Resistance would keep out the magically-created food.

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Can the damage from a Momentary Perdo effect be healed?

Yes. A Momentary Perdo spell does its damage and then the magic expires, so there is nothing that would prevent natural healing. A Momentary spell that damages a non-living object would do normal damage that could be repaired.

If the spell had some Duration other than Momentary, then the spell would prevent that damage from being healed or repaired while it remained in effect. After the spell wore off, the damage would remain but it could be healed or repaired as normal. That is, the only difference between a Momentary and a non-Momentary Perdo spell is that damage from a non-Momentary Perdo spell can't be repaired until after the spell ends.

There is some confusion arising from older editions, where many Perdo spells were given a Duration category called "Instant" and the text implied in some places that damage from Instant spells could not be naturally healed. The Instant Duration has been eliminated for clarity: Perdo spells that simply do damage in an eye-blink are now categorized as Momentary. Nothing in the ArM5 rules suggests that damage from Momentary-Duration spells can't be healed. The confusion should fade away as veteran players get accustomed to the ArM5 rules.

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Can a Momentary Perdo spell make something permanently weightless?

No. As noted under the description of the Technique Perdo on p. 78, Perdo magic can destroy properties of things. So a Perdo spell can destroy an object's weight and make it weightless. The following paragraph goes on to say that items can only permanently lose properties that can be lost naturally, like freshness. Properties that cannot naturally be lost, such as weight, would return after the spell ended.

It is up to the Troupe or storyguide exactly what properties can be lost naturally. Indeed, some decisions may need to be made about what properties Perdo can affect at all - is size a property? Weight is clearly something than an object can't natually lose, but other properties like hardness or flexibility are more of a grey area.

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What Form is electricity?

Auram. There is one electrical spell in the Fifth Edition rule book: The Incantation of Lightning (p. 126).

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Can a magus cast spells directly from a text?

The new, ArM5 version of casting from a text uses a special kind of text called a Casting Tablet. The rules for them are in Covenants, pages 89-90.

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How does multiple casting work?

On p. 87 of ArM5 are the rules for multiple casting, one of the special abilities a magus may choose for a spell he has mastered. The wording of the rules is a little unclear about exactly how many versions of the spell a magus may cast. Consider the following to be errata:

Multiple Casting (p. 87): Replace the the last sentence of the first paragraph with "You may cast a number of additional copies of the spell equal to or less than your Mastery Score."

--David Chart, Berkeley Ars Magica List, 17 Oct. 2005

So if your mastery score is 2 and you have the Multiple Casting special ability, you could cast up to 3 instances of the spell simultaneously: the original plus two additional copies.

The reason this is a Frequently-Asked Question is that the above errata were not corrected until several months after ArM5 was published.

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Magic Resistance and Parma Magica

The rules for magic resistance are meant to be straightforward, but they can be complicated to apply because magical effects are so variable. The implications of the Magic Resistance rules almost certainly have an impact on fine points of play, so of course a lot of people wonder whether they're applying the Magic Resistance rules correctly.

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Please explain in simple terms how magic resistance works.

The principle is dead simple: a magical effect can only cross magic resistance if it penetrates. There is a subsidiary principle: magic resistance does not dissociate magical effects from the things they affect. Between them, I am fairly confident that they have the effects described.

--David Chart, Berkeley Ars Magica List, 26 Nov. 2004

Well, I can't really explain much better than the rule book does. The relevant rules are on pp. 85-86; I'll try to rephrase them in case it helps.

First of all, magic resistance works the same way for everyone who has it. In the basic Fifth Edition rules, the only things that have magic resistance are magi (who get it from their Form scores and/or Parma Magica) and supernatural creatures (who get it from their Might score). For convenience, I will write "magus" when I mean "person or creature who has magic resistance," but the rules and the examples also apply to something like a demon, a pixie, or a dragon.

Magic resistance keeps magic away from the magus. It doesn't dispel magic. Page 85 says "[m]agic resistance keeps magic away from the maga, her clothing, and other items that are very close to her." It may help to think of Parma Magica, whose name is Latin for "magic shield," as a force field that surrounds the magus an inch or so outside his clothing. Magic can't get through that force field unless it penetrates the target's resistance. If it somehow does get through - say the magus lowers his Parma Magica and then brings it back up - then the magic is not dispelled. It keeps working.

The key question, then, is what is "magic" for purposes of magic resistance? Just about anything that comes from a spell or magical effect. Magic cannot act across the boundary of magic resistance, so it must penetrate the magus's resistance to affect him directly. Anything created by magic (except by a Creo ritual) would be kept out, as would anything altered my magic. Something propelled by a Rego effect, like Strike of the Angered Branch, would not be kept out, but it would lose all its motive force and come to a complete stop as soon as it hit the magus's resistance. (In the medieval understanding of physics, there was no idea of inertia and things were thought to stop the moment there was no force acting on them.)

The examples on pp. 85-86 explain these ideas in context. Really, the confusion about magic resistance is not usually about how the rules work (that's pretty clear), but about fine points or unpopular implications of the rules.

-- Andrew Gronosky

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What is the "Pink Dot Loophole?" Is there a way to close it?

The "Pink Dot Loophole" is an unfortunate consequence of the ArM5 Magic Resistance rules. Since magic resistance keeps out magical things, a devious magus can make himself immune to a mundane weapon by casting a spell on that weapon. The spell could be anything, something as minor as an Imaginem spell to make a tiny pink dot appear on the blade, and the weapon would then be magical and hence kept out by Magic Resistance. Since a caster can always choose to cast spells with zero Penetration (see Forceless Casting in Houses of Hermes: True Lineages, page 72), this becomes a very easy and effective way to defend against weapons. A MuIm level 4 (Curse of the Pink Dot, base 1, +2 Voice, +1 Diameter) would suffice against a single weapon.

No one seems to like the Pink Dot Loophole. In reply to a player commenting that he didn't like it, David Chart (Ars Magica Line Editor) wrote on the Ars Magica discussion board:

Neither do I. On balance, though, I like the alternatives less.

Now, many people have tried to suggest ways to close the "Pink Dot Loophole" but none of them have gained universal acceptance. All of the suggestions seem to carry negative side effects, so while they solve the "Pink Dot Loophole," they are liable to create other kinds of problems. Choose your poison:

--Andrew Gronosky

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Does Magic Resistance protect against the Divine?

Magic Resistance is a bit of a misnomer - it protects against all four supernatural Realms (magical, faerie, Infernal, Divine). It protects against the supernatural powers of any creature with a Might score, including Divine Might.

Nothing, not even magic resistance, can protect against a direct miracle. Miracles just happen if God wills them to: there is nothing anyone can do to stop them. God does not have a Might score - His might is infinite.

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Does Magic Resistance keep out helpful spells like healing spells?

Yes. Magic resistance protects against all spells and magical things - even spells the magus casts on himself - unless he consciously suppresses his Parma Magica (p. 85). While the magus's Parma is suppressed, all spells can get through, so it is best to do this only when the surroundings are safe. Note that an unconscious or unaware magus cannot voluntarily suppress his Parma.

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Does magic resistance protect against the claws or teeth of a magical creature?

Not normally. His claws are not a magical power, most of the time. It's the same reason Parma doesn't stop another magus from punching you on the nose.

--David Chart, Berkeley Ars Magica List, 25 Nov. 2004

The claw of a supernatural beast like a dragon is not inherently magical, any more than the fist of a supernatural person like a magus is magical. Only if the claws or fist were under the influence of a current supernatural effect - something that affects the claws themselves or maybe something that acts through the claws to affect their target - would they be stopped by Magic Resistance.

A related question is whether the attack of a human shapeshifted into an animal could be resisted. Generally speaking, the answer is yes. The shapeshifter is probably under the influence of a current supernatural effect. Bjornaer magi in heartbeast form are an exception: as noted in Houses of Hermes: Mystery Cults (page 24), a Bjornaer magus in heartbeast form does not count as being under a magical effect.

--Andrew Gronosky

(One possibility that's just occurred to me, and which apparently didn't occur to the playtesters either -- a magus with a Longevity Ritual is constantly under a mystical effect, so his punches may be affected by Magic Resistance.)

--David Chart, Berkeley Ars Magica List, 25 Nov. 2004

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How would magic resistance affect a sword that's enhanced by a spell?

The sword would be kept out entirely unless it penetrated the magic resistance. That is, if someone attacked a magus with a magically-enhanced sword, the sword would have no chance to hit unless it penetrated resistance. Since magic resistance does not dispel magical effects, it wouldn't keep out "just the magic" and let the blade through to do normal damage.

This is explicitly mentioned in the description of the spell, Edge of the Razor (p. 154). The principle comes from the magic resistance rules, not the spell, so it would also apply to effects like Blade of the Virulent Flame even though the spell description doesn't mention it. In the case of Blade of the Virulent Flame, the entire sword would be blocked, not just the flames.

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Does magic resistance keep out enchanted items?

Magic resistance definitely keeps out the effects of enchanted items - the spell-like powers that the items can create. It is less clear whether magic resistance categorically keeps out enchanted items themselves (as opposed to their effects). For example, say a wizard has an enchanted staff that can cast a handful of spells. He wants to simply bonk a recalcitrant faerie with the staff without using any of the staff's powers. Can the faerie resist?

On one hand, magic resistance keeps out magical things. The staff is magical in some way, since it can produce magical effects. On a simple level, it seems that it would be resisted. If enchanted items are not kept out, then it seems there may be some kind of evil loophole left open - for example, one could trick a magus into swallowing a small enchanted item, and then activate it from a distance, possibly bypassing the victim's magic resistance. The rules do say that enchanting an item is a type of ritual magic (p. 96). It seems that the rules lean toward an interpretation that the staff could be resisted.

On the other hand, common sense says that even if the staff is magic, its magic is not involved in any way when the magus whacks the faerie. The claws of a supernatural beast are not resisted unless the claws themselves are actively magical, so why wouldn't the same principle apply to an enchanted staff? And a rule that the staff would be resisted could make Pentration ambiguous and complicated - if the staff had multiple powers, what Penetration total would be used if none of those effects were active at the time of the whacking?

There is no official guidance on this question so troupes will have to decide for themselves. It seems to me there are potential complications with either interpretation. I don't want to deal with the Penetration questions that would arise if all enchanted items can be resisted, so I lean toward a ruling that they are only resisted while under some currently-active effect.

-Andrew Gronosky

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Since magic resistance keeps out magical things, doesn't it keep out illusions?

That's a pretty astute question. The Fifth Edition rules did anticipate this detail. Under the description of the Form of Imaginem on p. 79, the text explains that Imaginem spells produce non-magical species that can't be magically resisted. So, any Imaginem spell looks the same to a person with magic resistance as it does to one without it. Incidentally, this rule also prevents the detection of visual illusions at Touch range by simply seeing (touching with your eyes) the species. You would need to touch the actual object that is the target of the Imaginem effect, or use a Voice- or Sight-range spell.

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Why doesn't magic resistance dispel magical effects?

A few of [the effects of magic resistance] are a bit odd. (Never mind 'Edge of the Razor', try 'Edge of the Spoon', a MuTe effect that gives weapons -1 to damage, by blunting them, and still makes them bounce off Parma.) However, all the principles [of magic resistance] I could think of had odd effects, and the odd effects of this one seemed the least serious -- the odd effects of most of the others opened large holes in magic resistance. You can always House Rule around them, but given the interminable debates magic resistance provoked [in Fourth Edition], I decided to go with something simple.

The fundamental problem is that RPers D&D shaped instincts make no sense. Why on earth shouldn't magical weapons be resisted? They're magical effects. A set of rules that said 'magic resistance resists whatever you think it should in order to preserve game balance' would not have been much use...

--David Chart, Berkeley Ars Magica List, 26 Nov. 2004

Here is one of the loopholes David was talking about. If magic resistance dispelled magic, a magus could take something deadly, like poison, and transform it with a Muto Aquam into something harmless, like wine. Then he could give another magus a glass of wine. If magic resistance could dispel magical effects, then the wine would turn back into poison and kill the other magus (unless it penetrated his resistance, in which case it would remain water until the spell wore off). It's a serious enough flaw that there would be many ways to turn magic resistance against its possessor.

On the other hand, since magic resistance keeps out all kinds of magical things, a magus can abuse his own magic resistance to get protection from mundane attacks. Here's how. Cast a trivial spell on an opponent's weapon - say David's 'Edge of the Spoon', or Muto Imaginem spell to make a tiny pink dot appear on the blade - and make sure the effect has low Penetration. Then the weapon is magical and it will bounce off your Parma.

Any general Magic Resistance system is going to run into problems like this. The question is what problems are players and storyguides willing to accept. In ArM5, the second problem ("parma blocks pink dot") was considered less serious than the first problem ("parma can kill you"). There also seems to have been a strong desire to make a system that is simple and consistent so players can understand it and use it without major problems.

Not everyone is happy with the implications of the rules as they are written, but then, no one has come up with an alternative system that pleases everybody, either. People are welcome to try to "fix" perceived problems in the magic resistance rules for their own sagas.

There is nothing wrong with playing with a vague, fudged version of what Magic Resistance stops in your sagas, if you don't like the effects of the rules as written. Actually, it's positively a good idea; this is your game, play it in a way you like. But you'll find that you do have to fudge, or people will invent the Tree of Dragon Slaying spell: MuHe a mature oak tree into an arrow, and fire it at a dragon. [If magic resistance dispells the magic,] [t]he mundane tree gets through, and being hit by an oak tree doing over a hundred feet per second would hurt even the toughest dragon...

--David Chart, Berkeley Ars Magica List, 27 Nov. 2004

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Why can't non-Hermetic magicians (hedge wizards) have magic resistance similar to Parma Magica?

Maintainer's Note: I'm not going to touch this one with a ten-foot pole. Here is what David Chart has to say. -AG

Given that we are talking about game design, a meta-game reason is sufficient. After all, why are fermions subject to the exclusion principle, apart from the meta-game reason that it allows solid bodies to exist?

Ars Magica is a game about Hermetic magi. They are, and should remain, the focus. However, other traditions of magic are fun, and people like them. Thus, I wanted to create some space for them.

One possibility, that seems to have a number of supporters [on the BerkList], is that Hermetic magic is wonderfully general, but that hedge traditions are more powerful in their specialities. I don't think this option is viable.

Why? Because people only play one magus-type character (in general), and very, very few people want to play pure generalists. If you want to play a particular kind of specialist, which will you pick: the Hermetic, who could , in principle, learn to do things in which you have no interest, or the hedgie, who is better at what you want to do?

Of course, if Hermetic magic is just better in every respect than every other tradition, no-one will really want to play the hedgies, either, so that's not much fun either.

The path I'm taking is this. Hermetic magic is the most powerful form of magic available to humans. It is the most flexible, and while other traditions might match it in raw power, in a limited area, nothing obviously exceeds it. However, there are things that Hermetic magic cannot do; the limits of magic. Some hedge traditions will be able to break one of these limits.

However, to be fair, there should be something that only Hermetic magic can do. That something is general magic resistance. It's probably the most useful unique power, which is right, since Hermetic magic is supposed to be the best. If you like, the 'limits of magic' are those listed in ArM5, plus 'The Limit of Magic Resistance'. Major traditions break one limit each; Hermetic magic breaks the limit of magic resistance.

Now, a specialised tradition will have defences that work against specific magic. It might even have something like Form resistance, against a limited range of magic. But if a Hermetic magus goes outside that range, the other tradition has no defence.

Not having general magic resistance is a major weakness. Giving it to all hedge traditions gives us more flexibility to make their active powers interesting without risking making them more attractive, in raw power terms, than Hermetics.

If magical and faerie creatures can grant general resistance, then traditions that work by summoning and binding, or bargaining, would logically have it. Ruling out traditions that summon and bind creatures does much greater violence to my sense of the fitness of things than disallowing the power to magical and faerie creatures. Hence, in order to allow spirit masters, Titania can't grant general magic resistance.

Pure meta-game considerations. The in-game justification is 'Magic and Faerie don't work like that'. They are, after all, realms of power with no real-world, or even, to be honest, real-myth equivalent.

--David Chart, Berkeley Ars Magica List, 10 Jan. 2005

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Laboratory Work

This section covers Chapter 8 of the basic rules plus a smattering of Chapter 7.

Do lab helpers increase the amount of vis you can use in a season?

No. The helper gives you a bonus to your Lab Total, not to your Magic Theory score.

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Where are the rules for learning spells from a text?

Page 101, under Laboratory Texts. Learning spells from a book is exactly like using any other Laboratory Text now. The rules, however, are exactly the same as in ArM4. (For spells. For other things, they've changed to be like spells.)

--David Chart, Berkeley Ars Magica List, 27 Nov. 2004

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How are "Verditius runes" supposed to work?

The special abilities of Verditius magi are explained on p. 93. So-called "Verditius runes" have caused some confusion: they give a bonus to Lab Total equal to the Verditius magus's Philsophiae score, but the total bonus (including the "Verditius runes" bonus and the normal Shape and Material bonus) is still limited by the magus's Magic Theory score. Since it is easy to get a Shape and Material bonus equal to Magic Theory, what good is this ability?

The answer is that Verditius magi don't have to rely on Shape and Material bonuses to the same extent as other magi. Say a young Verditius magus has a Philosophiae of 4, a Magic Theory of 4, and he wants to make an item that casts Broom of the Winds (p. 125). One option would be to make an enchanted bellows, whose Shape and Material Bonus is "+4 create wind" (p. 110). Then he would get a total +4 bonus because the bonus can't exceed his Magic Theory score - his Philosophiae wouldn't help. However, he could get the same bonus by using his Philosophiae bonus of +4 and any shape he wants for the item. It could be a ring, a fireplace poker, or a pair of shoes. He still gets the full +4 bonus allowed by his Magic Theory by using Philosophiae instead of the Shape and Material. That flexibility is the advantage of "Verditius runes."

Another way to look at it is that a Verditius magus can always use "runes" instead of a Shape and Material bonus up to his Magic Theory score, and gets a small bonus whenever the Shape and Material bonus is less than his Magic Theory.

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Books, Study, and Experience

This section covers anything related to books, study, or experience points, except Virtues and Flaws. These rules can be found in Chapters 6, 10, and 15 of the Fifth Edition rule book.

What is meant on p. 165 by "Summae: Source - Quality and Level?"

A lot of people have scratched their heads over that one - it could probably have been phrased better. All it means is that summae are rated for both Quality and Level, as opposed to Tractatus which have only Quality.

The Source Quality from studying a summa is based on its Quality only. The Level only indicates how high a student's score can be before he stops benefitting from the summa. Tractatus don't have a Level because they can be studied only for one season and they benefit a student with any score in the relevant Art or Ability.

Not as clear as it might be, true. The called-out sentences in the left-hand column just give the stats for the books. The words after the colon should not be capped. The rules are the same as for everything else: Advancement Total is based only on Source Quality, not level.

--David Chart, Atlas Games Discussion Forums, 11 Feb. 2005

This is also mentioned in the errata.

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Any game seems to raise questions about the combat rules, and ArM5 is certainly no exception. The combat rules overall are meant to be simple and brief, which means they necessarily leave some questions unanswered. This section covers the combat-related portions of Chapter 10.

Do Wound and Fatigue penalties apply to Soak totals?

At first it appears they may - page 178 says "The character suffers a penalty to all actions (rolls and totals) equal to the sum of all penalties due to his wounds..."

On the other hand, Soak is a Total (page 171), but is it an action? A player cannot decide, "my character will now attempt to Soak this or that." Soak happens automatically whenever the character (potentially) takes damage.

An important clue is on 172 under "Combat: Simple Example." The penultimate paragraph says "note that Polandrus's Wound Penalty does not apply to Soak because Soak is not rolled." That's pretty explicit, though it's an obscure reference that's hard to find (especially in the middle of a game session).

So, no, Wound Penalties do not appear to be meant to apply to Soak. The word "totals" in the discussion of Wound Penalties probably means things like Lab Totals and Study Totals, which are not rolled (though for Study Totals, the effects of wounds are discussed under "Activities While Injured" on pages 178-179).

As to Fatigue penalties, the rules are more explicit. On page 178, the top paragraph in the center column says Fatigue penalties do not apply to Soak.

Do Wound Penalties apply to Recovery rolls?

No; see the second-to-last paragraph under "Recovery From Wounds" (page 179). The FAQ used to say they did (in the topic on differences between Fourth and Fifth Edition), but that was a mistake and has been corrected.

Where are the rules for crossbows?

David Chart (the Ars Magica Line Editor and author of Fifth Edition) has explained that crossbows were left out of ArM5 for brevity and simplicity. Rules for crossbows would be rather complicated because crossbows take a relatively long time to reload, and once loaded, they can be fired quickly. In particular, how the reloading cycle of crossbows would interact with the group combat rules is not obvious. David Chart decided that detailed crossbow rules would be better placed in a supplement than in the main book.

Covenants contains the official Fifth Edition stats for crossbows (page 18), and also notes that a more detailed treatment of the weapon will be given in a yet-unannounced future supplement.

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The rules in Covenants say it takes a very long time to reload a crossbow. Are those times realistic?

Some players do feel that the reload times for crossbows seem excessively long. The author of that piece of Covenants did his historical research - those numbers aren't just made up. However, there seem to have been a variety of different types of crossbows in the early 13th Century: presumably, some could be reloaded faster than others.

The author of the crossbow rules did post the following note to the mailing list:

I've been trying to reconstruct my research on crossbows, and I'm increasingly coming to the view that I've chosen an outlying case as typical.

-Timothy Ferguson, Berkeley Ars Magica List, 28 February 2006

Timothy went on to suggest alternate reload times for people to use as house rules; his full post is available from the list archives.

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Why would anyone want to use a crossbow, when longbows are so much better?

Two reasons. Although the ArM5 book doesn't say so, longbows in 1220 were only used in Wales (and perhaps the neighboring areas of England). If historical accuracy is a concern, the storyguide would be justified in insisting that longbow-wielding characters must be Welsh (or Englishmen from the Welsh Marches). Note that Welsh longbowmen might travel outside their home country as soldiers-of-fortune, though this would not have been as commonplace in 1220 as a century later, after England had fully embraced the longbow for military use.

Second, there is a concern among some players that the longbow statistics in the ArM5 core book are somewhat over-rated: in particular, that the longbow (which famously took years of training to master) may have too high an Atk value. If you want to make crossbows more attractive vis-a-vis longbows, consider house rules to tone down the longbow somewhat as well as ways to make the crossbow more effective.

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How does one calculate Attack and Defense for missile weapons?

In ArM5, missile combat uses the same rules as melee combat. The attacker rolls an Attack total, the defender rolls a Defense total, and if the Attack beats the Defense, the missile hits. This is completely different from the way things were done in Fourth Edition. In Fifth Edition, all attacks, melee, missile, or aimed spell, involve opposed stress rolls.

Calculating the Attack score is straightforward. Calculating the Defense score is a little special. First, the Ability to be used is the weapon skill appropriate to the weapon the defender is wielding. If he has a staff, he defends with Great Weapon skill; if he has a sling, he defends with Thrown Weapon skill. The hand-waving explanation is that weapon skills include the ability to avoid being hit, though meta-game reasons probably play a large part in the real explanation: the missile combat rules should resemble the melee combat rules for simplicity. Note that only shields, not other weapons, count toward Defense total against missiles. So against missiles, your Defense total would be Quickness + Combat Ability + (Shield Defense Bonus) + stress die.

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What are the rules for movement in combat?

There are no hard-and-fast rules for combat movement in ArM5. The group combat rules mean that characters need to have a lot of freedom of movement so they can mill around and engage members of other groups, or use the Defender option (p. 173) to protect their charge. The abstract group rules are conceptually incompatible with detailed miniatures-and-graph-paper type movement rules.

There are some situations where players do want to know how far someone can go in a round - for example, when two groups are standing 20 yards apart and one group wants to throw spears while the other wants to rush into melee. The intent of ArM5 seems to be to simply resolve these situations by common sense. David Chart has announced that advanced combat rules will be written in a future supplement, so help is on the way (eventually).

Until then, try using the Fourth Edition combat movement rates. You can download a PDF of Fourth Edition for free. For your convenience, I'll reprint the movement rates here:

Speed Paces Per Round
Walking 9 + Qik - Enc
Hustling 15 + Qik - Enc
Sprinting 30 + Qik + Athletics - Enc - Wound Penalties - Fatigue Penalty
Horseback (safe gallop) 50 + ride

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Where are the rules for making an all-out attack or defense?

This is covered by the Exertion option on p. 173. There are no rules for simply borrowing points from your Attack and putting them into Defense, or vice versa. That was an option in earlier editions of Ars Magica but it seems to have been intentionally dropped.

Many people seem find the new exertion option more playable. It gives flexibility but it is unlikely to be over-used because it costs a Fatigue level - a very scarce resource in combat.

A house rule re-introducing an all-out attack option might lead to balance problems, especially if you allow it to be combined with exertion. In Ars Magica, the outcome of a battle can be decided by the first significant wound, so allowing too many Attack bonuses to stack up would give a large tactical advantage to whoever gets to attack first.

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Where are the rules for combat fatigue?

There are none. Earlier editions of Ars Magica called on players to make Fatigue rolls for their characters at specified points in battle - depending on the edition, either every round or every time the character changed weapons or opponents. The combat-fatigue roll seems to have been generally considered more bookkeeping than it was worth and is gone from ArM5.

Characters in combat are very likely to lose Fatigue levels anyway, by spending them voluntarily under the "exertion" option (p. 173). The storyguide can always call for extra Fatigue rolls in battle under unusual circumstances, for instance, if it goes on for an exceptionally long time.

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What are the rules for charging?

Charging into battle is not one of the combat options covered in ArM5. Treat a charge as using the Exertion option (p. 173) to increase Attack. This can be done on foot or on horseback (mounted combat rules are on p. 174). There are no special rules for a mounted charge, so it's unclear whether the horse would need to spend a Fatigue level. The rider certainly would, to get the Exertion bonus to attack.

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What happens to a character's Initiative if he changes weapons?

There are no official rules for this - it's probably another thing that was left out for simplicity or brevity. Common sense suggests that a character who changes weapons shouldn't get a free re-roll of Initiative. Instead, just change the character's Initiative count by the difference between the Init bonuses of his old weapon and his new weapon.

For example, Gerard the Turb Warrior, the famous Fifth Edition sample character, confronts a pair of highwaymen. He wants to dissuade them from robbing him, but not necessarily cripple them, so he uses his staff instead of his mace. He rolls a 5 for Initiative and his staff's Init bonus is +1, for a total of 6. He fights for a couple of rounds until two more highwaymen spring from the bushes. Now seriously threatened, he drops the staff and whips out his mace. We'll pretend he forgot what his actual die roll was but knows that he goes on a 6 because the storyguide wrote that down. The mace's Init bonus is one lower than the staff's, so Gerard goes on initiative 5 for as long as he uses his mace.

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How does Initiative work for spellcasting?

It depends. For regular formulaic or spontaneous spellcasting (as opposed to fast-casting), a magus casts spells at his normal turn in the round as determined by his initiative roll. On page 83, under "Magic" (as a combat option), the rules say spells have no weapon initiative modifier so spellcasting initiative is a stress die plus Quickness. The spell takes effect immediately once you cast it.

Fast-casting a spontaneous spell works a little differently.

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Where can I find house rules for more combat options, variant weapon stats, and so on?

Project: Redcap is starting a new section for Web pages with house rules. It will be a while before that section is complete, so try browsing through the other Redcap links as well. The "Miscellaneous Pages" page is a good place to start, as are the Interactive Links (particularly Durenmar and Sanctum Hermeticum Renewed). Also, you may want to check back issues of Hermes Portal, the fanzine that was in print during the 4th-5th Edition transition.

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Questions About the Setting

Mythic Europe, the setting of Ars Magica, has been developed through a number of game supplements over many years. Many, perhaps a majority, of active Ars Magica players have a strong attachment to the setting. Fifth Edition does not seem to be altering the setting very much, but then it does not seem to be bending over backward to preserve continuity, either. There are, therefore, some questions about how the setting is affected by the new edition and its supplements.

What is the medieval paradigm?

This is a long one.

Maintainer's Note:

Medieval Paradigm is the topic most likely to start heated discussion on the Ars Magica Mailing List (note that we never have Flame Wars). Put simply, it is the game tenet that states that medieval Europe existed as its residents believed it to. Faeries and Giants, God and Satan, and all between existed and had an effect on the day-to-day life of those living at the time. Scientific principles that we accept as determining the nature of the universe do not exist in Medieval Europe; diseases are caused by humour imbalances and demonic possesions, meat sponaneously degenerates into maggots when left out, and other such concepts are the foundation of the Medieval Paradigm.

The effect this has on game play varies from saga to saga. Some troupes implement a very tight implementation of the paradigm, while others choose to play it a little more free and loose. There have been many interesting and informative arguments about the intricacies of paradigm, including but not limited to:

These questions, while quite interesting to discuss, don't have a "correct" answer; like most things in Ars Magica, the final decision rests with the troupe.

Medieval Paradigm

I begin with some definitions of paradigm that I believe will be acceptable to all.

Paradigm -- a) a pattern, example, or model b) an overall concept accepted by most people in an intellectual community, as a science, because of its effectiveness in explaining a complex process, idea, or set of data.

-- Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition

A paradigm is a set of rules and regulations (written or unwritten) that does two things: it establishes or defines boundaries it tells you how to behave inside the boundaries in order to be successful.

--Barker, Joel A. Paradigms, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992


The dictionary meaning is "an outstandingly clear or typical example or archetype." Paradigm is from the Greek compound word paradeigma, with para meaning alongside and deiknunai meaning to see or to show. A paradigm is a concept, often assumed or subconscious, that enables one to see and understand. It is not the thoughts we have, but the framework around which our thoughts are formed. In this sense, our paradigms are the mental tools or mindsets that we use to understand a situation.

-- Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition

For Ars Magica, the term paradigm is a difficult and often controversial subject. When it is brought up, it often elicits immediate and often damning response. Yet, at the heart of the debate lies a commentary on the approach to, and the possibility of, the game.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that the well-worn phrase "it's not in paradigm" may be used to mean, typically (and it should be noted that these three points are not exclusive, but often are unused simultaneously, depending on the user):

  1. that it doesn't follow the physical laws of the game world, usually held to be Aristotelian OR
  2. that it (whether point of view, technology, material good, etc.) is anachronistic to the historic Middle Ages OR
  3. that it does not accord with the speaker's conception of Mythic Europe, drawn on some other basis

These uses of the word cannot help causing a great deal of confusion and irritation among many people. Thus we have the regular, and sometimes acrimonious, discussions on paradigm.

There are two major points of debate of the concept. The first is the very meaning of the term and its applicability to the game. The second deals with how the concepts behind the term should be applied. I shall first look at the debates on the meaning of the term.

The Value of Paradigm

The first group tends to be best categorized by, "if it isn't broke, don't fix it." This group takes the reasonable position that no matter what the technical or specialist terminology of paradigm that may or may not be used in academia, at the heart the word means: "a pattern, example, or model." The express the opinion is that the word paradigm accurately expresses what the game intends, and that further attempts to describe the concept in other terms should be ignored. This argument usually decides upon a definition of paradigm along these lines as best suited for the game: "The set of rules and laws designed to simulate natural laws that gamers use to define what is and is not possible for their characters to accomplish in their fictional world."

The second tendency is those who wish to stick to a more strict Kuhnian definition of paradigm, that of: an overall concept accepted by most people in an intellectual community, as a science, because of its effectiveness in explaining a complex process, idea, or set of data. Due to this interpretation, this group often finds the use of paradigm within Ars Magica to be misleading or just plain wrong. Many who prescribe here usually argue for the removal of the word and the substitution of more accurate concepts, such as worldview or cosmology.

The third argument is perhaps the most quixotic, as it is not a true argument at all. Here we have those postings to the list asking that this discussion be ended. This group usually creates more messages decrying the discussion of paradigm than those arguing the above two.

The discussion of the meaning of paradigm usually resolves to five options, where the discussion usually becomes bogged down, turns into a flame war or people lose interest for the moment:

  1. Agreeing that there is not something that the term 'paradigm' is used to refer to; therefore, agreement to recognize the term 'paradigm' to refer to this thing, and then argue out of exactly what that meaning might be.
  2. Choose of an appropriate substitute word: 'worldview' for the subjective and 'cosmology' for the objective.
  3. Avoidance of the word 'paradigm' as an inconvenient shortcut word and and the choice to discuss the longhand implications
  4. Continuing to use the word 'paradigm' and argue out of how nobody/anybody/somebody has exclusive right to its application.
  5. Becoming disgusted by the whole thing and/or letting the naysayers end the discussion.

Paradigm and Ars Magica

The other major discussion point regarding paradigm is how to view whatever it represents in the Ars Magica universe. On one side we have the paradigm is absolute. The other side, albeit smaller, tends to argue something often called "belief defines reality" or "bdr" for short.

The absolute paradigm folks take the argument, to varying degrees depending on their view, that what the medieval person believed is the physical (and metaphysical) nature of reality. Hopefully adding the caveat that the game specific aspects are also true, that is, faerie, hermetic magic, etc. Often times the term "big-P paradigm" comes along. This is usually used to refer to the unalterable reality, or the cosmology, of the Ars Magica world. In this context, "little-p paradigms" are what people believe, which may or may not be true.

The inevitable difficulty against this position is that there are many groups within Europe that have their own, sometimes opposing worldviews. Thus it quickly becomes difficult to sort and choose on what is true and what is not. A similar difficulty here is the often brought up argument that we usually only discuss the viewpoint of the educated, and thus the clergy. The simple response to this is that we only have access to their beliefs since they are the only ones who wrote them down.

The second group in this part of the argument is the "belief defines reality" crowd. This argument reached its hey-day during the time White Wolf was publishing the game. Its proponents argue that it is only people's belief in something that makes it change. If people's beliefs change, then so does reality. The logical conclusion of this is that if you get enough people to believe something than reality changes accordingly. This was originally required by White Wolf to explain how the Ars Magica universe would evolve into their World of Darkness.

Teleology and Paradigm

Teleology is the study of ends, purposes, and goals have a teleological world view, the ends of things are seen as providing the meaning for all that has happened or that occurs. If you think about history as a timeline with a beginning and end, in a teleological view of the world and of history, the meaning and value of all historic events derive from their ends or purposes, that is, all events in history are future-directed. Aristotle's thought is manifestly teleological; of the four "reasons" or "causes" (aitia) for things, the most important reason is the "purpose" or "end" for which that thing was made or done. The Christian world view is fundamentally teleological; all of history is directed towards the completion of history at the end of time. When history ends, then the meaning and value of human historic teleology experience will be fulfilled. Modern European culture is overwhelmingly teleological in its experience of history, that is, we see history and experience as entirely future-directed. This, in part, is responsible for the proliferation of alternatives, for in a teleological world view, history has potentially an infinite number of options and alternatives, and this proliferation of alternatives is primarily responsible for the crisis of modernity.

In Ars Magica, this term is often used concerning the question of the eventual outcome of Mythic Europe. Does the world eventually turn out like our own, or does it go off in a totally different direction, or something all together different? Ars Magica is an account of Earth as it might have been in consequence of some hypothetical alteration in history, in this case the presence of magic, faerie and the true power of God. The question then becomes, what will its future bring. This is a question that only the individual saga can give. However, the list has tended to have its share of discussion of the subject. Like anything, there are several positions staked out and then a wide spectrum of belief between those.

A normal view is to make a connection i) historical fidelity, ii) historical teleology, and iii) cosmological commitment. The implication is that fidelity to our-world history goes along with a commitment to modern physics and cosmology. There are many different ways to be faithful to the historical record, and one of them, which is perhaps the standard one -- presented in the various Ars Magica books, is to be faithful to some of the beliefs of the inhabitants of our medieval Europe -- so that the sun does circle the Earth, and a different physics is in operation. Furthermore, playing through our world history, with a different set of explanatory resources (magic, the Fay, demons, Hermetic conspiracies, Aristotelian cosmology) than is available to the modern historian, can form the basis of highly imaginative Sagas that have no concern to prevent divergence from our world history beyond a certain point -- and hence have no commitment at all to the development of the modern world. Historical fidelity can also take the form of a commitement to socio-economic history, without resort to significant events in the political sphere.

An eventual goal to this view would be to develop a future history for Ars Magica, utilizing the socio-economic history of our own as a guide. Such an undertaking has daunted even the most ambitious of us on the list.

Others would argue that it is impossible to develop the modern age with the assumptions brought to Mythic Europe. For them, a truly 'mythic' campaign requires diverging far and wide from the historical record. This is an attractive view since it requires little thought on merging our history with all the difficult assumptions that Faerie and Magic and such are real.

Others imagine a game world where the history is like ours, though cosmology is different and the teleological commitment is just the one of the medieval theologians. That prethomistic medieval theology usually did not consider the contemporary politics and historical events of the time under this aspect -- unless an author's intention is obviously panegyrical. Indeed every prerequisite for the individual's salvation, but the contribution of the individual herself, has already been provided by the sacrifice of Christ. So, in the view of Augustine in particular, there is only one issue of the present that is of importance under teleological perspective: the continuous existence and operation of the church. This is supposed to be guaranteed by decree of God. Any other historical events are accidental until the end of time, even the crusades. St. Bernhard used the complete indulgence offered by Eugenius III, not any teleological arguments regarding history, to incite the assembly of Vezelay 1146 -- as far as we know. Of course there were dissenters who gave the present more importance concerning the end of the world: Joachim de Flore with his great following, and most heretics. Thomas Aquinas, however, again avoids the treacherous terrain of teleology in contemporary history and politics nicely. This position might be thought of as a good argument in the starting condition of Ars Magica: there all the history up to the starting point of a campaign has happened by the history book, and still there are magi, faeries, dragons, saints and demons. So it is logical to think how history can proceed by the book while magi, faeries, dragons, saints and demons are still cavorting about in the game world.

Wherever one falls on the debate, in the end, the issue of history and its use in Ars Magica is a fascinating one, one that can and does provide many hours of fascinating debate. Long may we continue to ponder these questions.

Some Personal Reflections

The most important thing about the whole paradigm discussion, no matter where you are is to have patience. Learn from others' mistakes. This subject can and will easily develop into a flamewar. So think closely about what you truly wish to say, and then say it. Do not let others discourage you from the subject. Do not let others say this issue has been hashed over a million times, perhaps it has, but there are still important things to be covered. No discussion can ever truly be over. Contrary to what some may say this is an important issue for this game. One that should, and will, be continually reexamined. Read what others have posted, and then add your view points and opinions. And above all, have fun with it.

-- Jeremiah Genest

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What's all this about Tremere and vampires?

In earlier editions of the game, House Tremere had vampiric members. This was given as a rumour in Second Edition, confirmed in Third, and explored a little in the Fourth. At fullest flower the idea included statistics for vampires, given in "The Medieval Bestiary: Revised Edition", a note that they had been destroyed in "Houses of Hermes", and an origin story foreshadowing their return in "Triamore: the Covenant at Lucien's Folly". In Vampire: the Masquerade and Mage: the Ascension - games published by Ars Magica's then-owner - this link was developed further. In these games, Clan Tremere was a faction of sorcerer-vampires. In Fifth Edition, the Tremere Vampires were removed from the setting.

I was the author for the Tremere section of Houses of Hermes: True Lineages, but this FAQ isn't the place to justify the change in detail. At its simplest, the vampires had consumed the identity of the House, moving from a plot hook to a defining concept. They obscured many other ideas I had for possible stories, and created problems for other writers. The previous version of the House was evil, expansionist and militant, and so it forced them to design their characters as a response to the obvious threat the House posed to the Order. House of Hermes: True Lineages was an opportunity to reimagine the four Houses it included, and so it seemed the right place to move beyond the Vampiric Tremere.

It's not correct to say that the Tremere have no connection with vampires in the new edition. House Tremere's power is still centred in Transylvania, which as a Slavic country has many faeries which are vampires, and more than its fair share of animated dead who drink blood. Those native creatures that can be subverted to the causes of the House have been. Those which cannot be, or should not be, are destroyed. This makes the Tremere relationship to vampires complicated, but some elements of it have been discussed in HoH:TL.

--Timothy Ferguson

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How do I say (something) in Latin?

There are several good English-Latin dictionaries online. For example, you might try The information you find there or in any Latin dictionary is useful, but you can be even more accurate by learning a bit about Latin grammar. If you're looking to say something in Latin, chances are it's a name for a character or a covenant or something like that, for which a little summary of Latin grammar should be very helpful. If you want to translate your charter into Latin, that's a little too ambitious for this FAQ.

Here's two common Ars Magica words as they might be presented in a Latin dictionary:

aqua -ae f. [water]
magus -i m. [magician]

Latin nouns have several different cases. Case describes the purpose of the noun within the sentence. The first case is called the nominative, which is the case you would use if you want to name something, like a magus or a covenant, or if you wanted to define the subject of a sentence. These are likely to be the most common words you'll want to look up, and conveniently, this is the word presented by a dictionary entry.

Latin doesn't have articles, like "a" or "the," so they can be applied as desired. "Magus" means "magician," "the magician," or "a magician," and it is up to the reader to determine the meaning based on context.

In the dictionary listing, after the nominative, you will find a suffix which tells us how to form the second case, which is called the genitive. The genitive is used to indicate origin or possession, and can be roughly translated as "of (word)." For example, "magus aquae" could be translated as "magician of the water." The order of the words doesn't matter; you could say "aquae magus" and mean the same thing, the emphasis would just be more on the water than the magus, something like "the water's magician."

You might question why we are using "aqua" instead of "aquam." Doesn't "aquam" mean "water" in Ars Magica? It does, but it is a different case of "water," called the accusative. This is because "aquam" is used as the direct object of a verb, such as "creo." Since "creo" means "I create," "aquam" is the thing created. If you're interested in writing complete sentences, you'll need to learn a bit on your own about the additional cases.

The suffix following the nominative in the dictionary entry also tells us the word's declension, which describes how the word is conjugated. This is how we know what suffixes to use when making other cases, including the plural. There are five declensions in Latin, which conjugate by five different sets of rules. Some even have multiple rules, either because of irregular nouns, or based on the word's gender. The gender follows the suffix, and is either female, male or neuter. Here is a list of the most common conjugations, based on gender.

Decl. (gender) nom. nom. pl. gen. gen. pl.
1 (f) -a -ae -ae -arum
2 (m) -us/-r -i -i -orum
2 (n) -um -a -i -orum
3 (fm) * -es -is -um
3 (n) * -a/-es -is -um
4 (fm) -us -us -us -uum
4 (n) -u -ua -us -uum
5 (fm) -es -es -ei -erum

Third-declension nominatives can end with pretty much anything. Therefore, this is a good declension to use if you want to "Latinize" a word that isn't clearly Latin, or which doesn't easily fit into any of the other declensions. For example, the genitive for "Bjornaer" could be "Bjornaeris," and "Tremere" might become "Tremeris."

Thus, following these rules, "ferrum, -i, n." would conjugate "ferrum/ferra" in the nominative, singular and plural, and "ferri/ferrorum" in the genitive. "Mater, matris, f." ("mother") would be "mater/matres" and "matris/matrum." "Dies, -ei, m." would be "dies/dies" and "diei/dierum." With our expanded vocabulary, we could now say "ferra aquarum," meaning "iron of the waters," and "Matris Dies," "Mother's Day."

Adjectives look a little different. Adjectives always modify a noun, and they have to match the noun in case, gender and number. Therefore, in a dictionary, an adjective is listed in the masculine nominative case, followed by the feminine suffix, and neuter suffix. Here is an example:

magnus -a -um [great]

If you wanted to refer in Latin to a "great magician," you would say "magus magnus." "Great magicians," plural, would be "magi magni." Using the genitive, "Magician of the Great Waters" would be "Magus Aquae Magnae." Adjectives have several declensions as well, but you can usually just match the noun. There are some irregular adjectives, but they should be indicated for you in the dictionary entry. The declensions for adjectives go as follows:

Decl. nom. (m/f/n) nom. pl. (m/f/n) gen. (m/f/n) gen. pl. (m/f/n)
1, 2 -us/-a/-um -i/-ae/-a -i/-ae/-i -orum/-arum/-orum
3 -er/-is/-e -es/-es/-ia -is -ium

Latin verbs, unlike English verbs, do not require a pronoun ("I," "you," "he," etc.). Rather, the pronoun is part of the verb's conjugation. For example, "Creo" means "I create." Likewise, "Creas," means "You create," and "Creat," means "he creates." You can use nouns with the verb; if you say "Magus creat," it means "The magus creates." Nouns do not necessarily precede the verb, though, so "creat magus" does not mean "He creates the magus." (That's where you get into accusatives again.)

Verbs are listed with at least two parts, like so:

amo -are [to love]

The first word is in the first-person active present ("I love"), ending in -o. The second is the infinitive, the word from which you can determine the ending for the other cases. By dropping the "re" and adding -or, -s/-ris or -t/-nt, you can conjugate most verbs in the present tense. Past and future tenses require a bit more study.

This summary should help you recognize and correctly use the words that a Latin-English dictionary will provide you. May you find and use many "boni verbi" in your future games.

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In Ars Magica, are the pagan gods Magical, Faerie, or what?

There is plenty of confusion on this matter because the answer has changed over the lifetime of the Ars Magica line. At various times, different supplements have stated or hinted that the pagan gods were magical beings (2nd Edition), powerful faeries (4th Edition), or even demons (3rd Edition Tribunal books).

In ArM5, most of the pagan gods are powerful faeries, but there may be the occasional magical being mixed in. ArM5 draws the distinction between the Magical and Faerie Realms differently than did previous editions.

The ArM5 rule book doesn't explicitly say whether pagan gods are faeries, but it does give guidance on how to classify supernatural creatures:

The Ars Magica Line Editor has offered some further clarification:

The ArM5 distinction is that Faerie is fundamentally concerned with humanity, while Magic fundamentally doesn't care. Since most pagan gods are concerned with humanity, they are mostly Faerie. Nature tends to be Magic rather than Faerie in ArM5; the distinction is definitely not the same as it was in ArM4 and earlier. Mind you, the problem with the earlier distinction is that it was deeply unclear what the distinction *was*, and over time just about everything got dumped into Faerie.

- David Chart, Berkeley Ars Magica List, 29 September 2005.

Bear in mind that faeries are not the only things that care about humans. Divine and Infernal beings certainly care, too. It is more correct to say that magical creatures are the only supernatural beings that don't care about humans. Yet the Faerie realm is unique in that it somehow draws its existence or power from human imagination. The Divine, Infernal, and Magic realms would go on existing if there were no humans at all.

So, the pagan gods are officially classed as Faerie because they have a close relationship with humans. The god Hermes might be an exception, as a human who has gained immortality and become a Magic spirit. Pagans in Mythic Europe worshipped gods, not Realms, so it is possible that each pantheon may have contained a mix of both Faerie and Magical beings.

All of this raises the question, to which Realm should a supernatural being belong? It's pretty clear that shoemaker's elves would be faeries and beasts of virtue would be magical, but there are grey areas like nymphs. A nymph is a nature spirit, but if you've read any Greek or Roman mythology, you will see that nymphs often have a lot of interest in humans (and vice versa). A useful question might be, is a nymph more like some kind of elemental spirit, or more like a very minor goddess?

One thing is clear: just because an older-edition sourcebook says a particular creature is magical or faerie, does not mean that this is still true in Fifth Edition. Until the relevant Realms of Power books come out (one can presume they will shed more light on the matter), it is best to make one's own best judgement based on the ArM5 Realms chapter.

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