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Rules Questions for Fourth Edition and Earlier

How does the Parma Magica work?

Maintainer's Note: Fifth Edition substantially revised the magic resistance rules, so this entry only applies to Fourth Edition and earlier.

Parma Magica is a topic that has long been debated on the Ars Magica list, and in an attempt to prevent too many more flames, I submit to my sodales the following. Please realize that this is how Parma Magica is defined by ArM4. It does not cover all situations and you will have to make rulings based on your own judgment of how parma and magic resistance work. I only ask that you do not try to claim that your house rules are anything but local rulings.

  1. Parma Magica literally translates to 'magic shield.' It is defined in ArM4 as an Hermetic skill, and its description is found on pages 55, 72, and 73 of the 4th ed. rules book. More details can be found on pages 69-74 of the Wizard's Grimoire, Revised Edition (WGRE).
  2. Parma Magica is a form of magic resistance, and acts per the same rules as other magical resistances, except that it must be reinstated at sunrise and sunset. NOTE: though this is a 'ritual' it is not a 'ritual spell' in the hermetic tradition.
    1. Resistance may be raised and lowered at will for its duration.
    2. Resistance only covers the target and anything he wears or holds in his hand.
    3. Just touching something does not convey protection.
  3. Parma Magica does not protect against spells that have a range of Personal.
  4. Parma Magica protects the magus from spells and magical effects that either directly attack the magus, or attack through a magically created media. If a natural result of a spell attacks the magus (someone PeTe the wall under his feet, for example), then the magus will still fall and take damage from that fall unless he is able to avoid it in another way.
    Def: Direct attack
    A direct magical attack is any spell or magical effect that targets the maga specifically. Thus most Perdo, Mentem, Muto, and Rego spells are considered a direct attack. "Healing" spells (Creo) also target the individual, and are thus resisted unless the maga drops her resistance.
    Def: Magically created medium.
    A magically created medium includes anything created by magic with a duration other than Instant or Permanent (WGRE 73). This includes, rocks, wolves, fire, lightning, towers, and insects.
    NOTE: Canon in no way says whether or not a Muto'd object (an arrow made from smoke, for instance) is a magically created medium or not. This should be determined in your saga, realizing that YMMV.
  5. You cannot resist spells that change your environment. Neither can you touch, hold, or hit an enchanted object or spell to dispel it. Spells that change your environment include (but are not neccessarily limited to):
  6. When Parma Magica protects you from a spell it does not, necessarily, dispel the spell itself. Magically created animals may not attack, or may pop when they do. Flames may peter out or roar past the magus who is protected from their heat. A ReTe rock may stop an drop harmlessly at a maga's feet or be deflected elsewhere. As long as the effect is "dramatically appropriate" (WGRE 74) it is proper.
  7. Finally, we get the nitpicky details. Some would say that a magical bridge should be resisted by the magus, thus causing them to fall through. David Chart, co-author of WGRE and a contributing author to ArM4, made clear his opinion on this issue: "Magical bridges don't disappear when magi step on them because nothing does. Magi don't have trouble walking on magical bridges because the Parma just stops the impact being damaging, and it wouldn't be anyway."

There are many other controversial examples that are omitted here. That is because much of this is left to the storyguide to decide how powerful parma should be. Even the bridge debate is opinion. Also note that anything above may be changed to fit the storyguide's vision of their gaming world.

Remember that YMMV. Parma is a powerful tool invented by Bonisagus, and most players won't understand how it works anyway. Use it as a tool to make your adventures more fun and enjoyable, and don't get so bogged down in it that you lose sight of the fact that it is only a game.

-- Joshua Badgley

Is Perdo Imáginem too easy?

The ArM4 spell guidelines for Perdo Imáginem, while consistent in themselves, caused a major reduction in the spell Levels required to achieve Invisibility, for instance reducing Invisibility of the Standing Wizard (IotSW) to Level 5. When this was first discussed on the Ars-Magica mailing list, a "vigorous discussion" took place...

Responses included:

The Published Guidelines Are Reasonable

In writing guidelines for ArM4 it was felt that certain Forms were easier to manipulate than others, so that where a guideline effect was comparable across forms, the guideline level should be lower. Since it was felt to be easier to manipulate Images than Matter, the Imáginem guidelines should be easier than the Elemental Form guidelines, so to "destroy an amount" the guidelines are:

PeAu 5 Touch Momentary Individual  
PeIg 5 Reach Momentary Small  
PeTe 5 Reach Momentary Small  
PeIm 5 Reach Sun Individual +3 magnitudes

(In some cases guideline comparisons may be obscured by differences in the nature of the guideline, e.g. the Perdo Corpus and Mentem guidelines might seem easier than the Elemental forms:

PeCo 5 Near Momentary Individual "+2 magnitudes"
PeMe 5 Eye Sun Individual "+2 magnitudes"

but the guidelines for PeCo and PeMe are lesser effects than "destroy an amount", typically causing "wounds". To "destroy" a body or mind utterly is much harder, requiring the Level 40 guideline!)

The guidelines for Imáginem provide for the destruction of the Image affecting "one sense", adding extra magnitudes for additional senses affected. Ranking all 5 senses equally, makes a person's or object's visual image disappear, rendering them Invisible.

Following this through leads to the calculation that Reach/Sun/Individual Invisibility corresponds to the basic Level 5 guideline.

The Easing-of-Difficulty Has Been Over-done

There is a significant reduction in the effective magnitude of spells providing Invisibility between 3rd and 4th Editions of Ars Magica:

  3rd Edition 4th Edition Effective Change
Invisibility of the Standing Wizard PeIm(Co) 15, Self, Sun, (Ind) PeIm 5, Reach, Sun, Ind -4 Magnitudes
Chamber of Invisibility PeIm(Co) 25, Near, Sun, (Group) PeIm 15, Near, Sun, Group -2 Magnitudes
Veil of Invisibility PeIm(Co) 30, Self, Sun, (Ind) PeIm 10, Touch, Sun, Ind -5 Magnitudes

A number of people felt that it was inappropriate for Invisibility to be possible at a level where a Magus with a basic Int and a measly zero in both Arts could expect to Spont. such a spell.

Since IotSW is Reach/Sun/Individual, we can reduce the RDT to either Personal/Sun/Individual, or Touch/Concentration/Individual and drop the level required by two magnitudes (5 to 3).

(Int (1) + Tech (0) + Form (0) + [average 5.75 from a stress die])/2 yields a Level 3 spell.

Adding one magnitude (Level 4) lets our Wizard walk freely...

Even if they don't cast Spontaneously, a Magus with a zero Arts could learn a Formulaic spell and expect to cast it (albeit sometimes costing fatigue); and with minimal study could cast it without fatigue.

The objection here comes from a combination of memory of the difficulty of Invisibility spells in previous versions of Ars Magica, and from a feeling that the reputation of Invisibility in stories is higher than an Apprentice's learning exercise.

Invisibility Should not be Used as a Matter-of-Course

If Invisibility is so easy to cast, and given the apparent advantages of remaining hidden, then Magi are likely to use Invisibility as a common option, because it is so useful.

Then, Magi in the field may find that they have to expect Invisible opponents to ambush at any turn, and Covenants to expect Invisible visitors; this in turn leads to the development of large-scale counter-measures to defeat the effects of Invisibility - in short, an Arms-Race.

While a Magus turning Invisible to thwart a Mundane is very much in the stories of the day, it seems out of character for it to become so common-place as to become a nuisance. Where Invisibility is mentioned in stories, it is often part of the Theme of the story, not a casually expected state.

Countering Invisibility

Countering Invisibility, and preparing for Invisible attackers, is not difficult.

Invisibility itself does not make people silent, nor remove their scent, nor make invisible the things around them, so:

Rewriting the Guidelines

One solution to this, is to create your own guidelines for PeIm, so as to push spell levels back towards the desired (ArM3?) levels. Here is a sample replacement set of guidelines for PeIm:

Perdo Imáginem Guidelines

In addition to destroying created images, these spells dull the sensual properties of things - making wine dull and tasteless, sneaks silent, hot things cool, and pictures colourless. Destroying the images of changing things is more difficult - add one level of magnitude to spells that do so. If the image changes rapidly, two levels are needed. This is normally a part of the spells listed. (Spell effects are carried around with moving objects, if the motion does not change them, for example the effect of Taste of the Dulled Tongue remains in effect if the food is moved or eaten.)

Making things invisible (so you can see the image of things beyond them) is more difficult that making them colourless - add two levels of magnitude to spells that do so.

The basic range is Reach, basic Duration is Concentration, and basic Target is Small. (Note that since the images of objects "heal" naturally to return almost immediately, Momentary duration is normally only useful to break other spells.)

Level 5: Destroy an object's appearance to one sense. Destroy a repetitive sound. Make a picture colourless. Destroy an object's shadow.

Level 10: Destroy an object's appearance to two senses. Prevent someone from talking [changing image].

Level 15: Destroy an object's appearance to three senses. Make a static object invisible.

Level 20: Destroy an object's appearance to four senses. Make a walking person invisible.

Level 25: Destroy an object's appearance to five senses. Make a fighting person invisible.

Revised Perdo Imáginem Spells


Dispel The Phantom Image, General, R: Near/Sight, D: Mom, T: Group

Destroys the image from any CrIm spell whose level you match or exceed on a stress die + the level of your spell.

Level 5

Taste of the Dulled Tongue [Base 5], R: Touch/Reach, D: Sun, T: Small

Removal of the Conspicuous Sigil [Base 5], R: Touch/Reach, D: Sun, T: Small

Level 10

Illusion of Cool Flames [Base 5], R: Touch/ Reach, D: Sun, T: Ind

Level 15

Invisibility of the Standing Wizard [Base 15], R: Personal/Reach, D: Sun, T: Ind

Become invisible, but the spell is broken if you move other than breathing or shifting slightly in place.

Level 25

Silence of the Smothered Sound [Base 10], R: Near, D: Sun, T: Ind

Veil of Invisibility [Base 25], R: Touch/Reach, D: Sun/Year, T: Ind

The target becomes invisible to normal sight, regardless of what it does, but still shows in a mirror.

Level 30

Chamber of Invisibility, [Base 15], R: Reach/Far, D: Sun/Year, T: Group

Makes a group of creatures invisible, but anyone moving breaks the spell. (A Rego requisite lets the targets see each other.)

-- Neil Taylor

How do I use Range, Duration, and Target?

Fourth Edition introduced a third modification category for spell definitions, called Target. This defines the size of the effect, which in earlier editions was only a function of the spell guidelines. Spells can be designed with larger Targets to affect a greater area. Range is still the distance from the caster to the Target, but spells with Range: Self were modified to become Range: Personal, generally meaning that the distance from the caster to the Target was non-existent, i.e. that the Target is the caster, but not necessaily just or entirely the caster. This is because larger Targets incorporate all smaller Targets. Also, spells cast at Personal Range are not deflected by the caster's Parma Magica.

This has caused some heated discussions on the mailing list, generally questioning whether the Target is a container for the effect, or the size of the affected area. For example, a spell designed to destroy water is cast upon a castle. The Target is Structure, meaning a building the size of a castle and everything in it. Is the Range the distance from the caster to the castle, or the distance from the caster to the water within the castle? That is, does the spell Target the castle, or a castle-sized amount of water? This is an important distinction, since the Range in the former instance could easily be Touch, while in the latter case it may be Sight or even Arcane Connection, depending on how visible the water is. It has also been argued that in the former case, if the magus is standing inside the castle, he should be able to effectively cast the spell at Range: Personal, since he is part of the "castle and everything in it," regardless of whether or not he is personally affected by the spell.

This issue seems to get wrapped up in the question of whether or not the magus can see the target, and the limitation that Hermetic magic cannot affect what the caster cannot see -- the caster can see the castle, but not the water. Is it enough to see the castle to affect everything in it, or must the caster see some or most of what he is affecting, and not just its container? An example would be a spell which creates a woodchip in a person's windpipe; can a magus cast the spell if he cannot see the windpipe in question?

Furthermore, the question arises whether a spell can target something that is not itself affected by the spell, e.g. a spell designed to detect gold, cast at a person, R: Touch, T: Individual. Does this tell the caster about an Individual gold source he is touching, or tell about gold to the Touched Individual upon whom the magus cast the spell? In the latter case, reducing most Intellego spells to Range: Personal makes them incredibly easy to cast.

Canon is unclear about these issues, because examples of both interpretations can be found in the Fourth Edition rulebook and the Wizards Grimoire Revised Edition. Several options have been suggested to resolve these problems for any given spell:

  1. Ignore the discrepancy. The spell is mythically appropriate, so in its case magic just works that way. The Storyguide can approve similar spells or not as he sees fit.
  2. Ignore the spell. That spell as written doesn't exist; you can't do that with Hermetic magic.
  3. Increase the level of the spell to account for "tricky" magic. Characters can do it, but it's harder than the guidelines require. Slap a couple of extra magnitudes on it and get on with the game.
  4. Assume that the spell as written is either a throwback to an earlier kind of magic or a recent Hermetic breakthrough, the effects of which cannot be duplicated by the players except with the existing version of the spell.
  5. Revise the spell to account for the "amount" Target, i.e. make the above PeAq spell R: Sight, T: Structure (destroy a large, visible amount of water, like the moat or a lake), and the InTe spell R: Near, T: Small (detect a small amount of gold nearby). The CrHe spell (create a woodchip inside a windpipe) can't be cast.
  6. Revise the spell to account for the "container" Target, i.e. make the above PeAq spell R: Touch, T: Structure (destroy water inside the castle the caster is touching), the CrHe spell R: Near, T: Individual (create a woodchip inside a nearby individual), and the InTe spell R: Touch, T: Individual (make a touched individual able to detect gold).
  7. Revise the spell to account for the "amount" Target, and incorporate a Requisite appropriate for the "container" Target, i.e. make the above PeAq spell R: Reach, T: Structure, with a Terram requisite to include the castle in the effect (destroy a large amount of water inside the castle the caster is touching), the CrHe spell R: Near, T: Individual with a Corpus requisite (create a woodchip inside a nearby human body), and the InTe spell R: Near, T: Individual, with a Mentem requisite (make a nearby mind able to detect nearby gold).

Fourth Edition also introduced a couple of new Durations, including Diameter, which lasts about two minutes and is equal in magnitude to Concentration, and Ring, which is roughly equal to Moon and lasts as long as the target remains within an unbroken ring. Also, a distinction is made between Momentary, a low magnitude Duration, and Permanent and Instant, which are higher magnitude and require vis. Momentary quickly affects the target and then nature resumes its normal influence, while Permanent continues to affect the target forever, or until dispelled. Instant affects the target forever in some way that cannot be dispelled.

Unfortunately, several of the Fourth Edition spell guidelines give "Instant" or "Permanent" as their default Duration. On the surface this makes sense, since if you (for example) break a wolf's leg, the leg is instantly and permanently broken, it doesn't immediately heal. But if you lower the Duration of an Instant spell down to, say, Sun Duration, the wolf's leg is still broken as long as the caster might need it to be, and the spell is suddenly three or four magnitudes easier to cast!

A suggested fix for this loophole is to consider all guidelines with "Instant" or "Permanent" as the default to be "Momentary" instead. The magic acts on the target, and then nature resumes as normal, but the effects of the magic remain -- the broken bones do not suddenly heal themselves. Increased Durations lengthen the time until the affected target can begin healing, so a Permanent Perdo spell can never be mended without first dispelling the effect.

--Erik Dahl

For a comprehensive list of changes from Third Edition to Fourth Edition, or from Second Edition to Third Edition for that matter, take a look at Lydia Leong's articles.

Can my wizard create ritual spell to lift an entire mountain five hundred feet into the air permanently? If so, what level would it be?

I don't know; can he? Since I don't know of wizard succeeding at such a feat, I can't say that it's definitely possible, and no one knows for sure what's impossible, so the only way your wizard is going to find out whether it's possible is to try.

As to the ritual's Level, it would sure be high. Floating a mountain violates its nature, so that'd be a difficult maneuver. A Level 50 ritual can cause a tidal wave, but that's a natural and temporary phenomenon. The floating mountain trick might be Level 100 or Level 200 or Level 1,675. Again, there's no way to know until your wizard tries it. Hermetic theory is not predictable enough that we can know ahead of time what Level a given effect is. The real problem is that your wizard may think he's succeeded, only to have the mountain come crashing down in a week or so. That's the problem with experiments on such a grand scale: when they go awry, watch out.

Even if the ritual succeeds, it could have unforeseen consequences of major proportions. What effects might the strain of such an unnatural event have on the area? What effects might it have on the magic aura of the mountain? If this ritual up-ends Nature and causes mountains to float, might it cause water to run uphill, or fire to freeze, or mirrors to reflect backwards? No one will know until some wizard tries the ritual.

Finally, there's the issue of esthetics. No floating- mountain covenants will appear in a Mythic Europe supplement because it violates the setting's low-fantasy feel. (A floating mountain, however, might be fine in a saga with a variant setting.) Ultimately, the storyguide(s) need(s) to decide whether floating mountains fit the saga. If they do, go for it, but don't expect your results to be accepted as standard by other troupes. If not, the floating mountain ritual could become the center of a very interesting career as a wizard tries relentlessly and unsuccessfully to pull it off (rather like the "invention" of 19th century flying machines).

-- Jonathan Tweet

Can a magus create a golem and switch minds with it and thus escape old age?

Yes, I bet it could be done, but I wouldn't want to hang around. A mind is not a program that will run equally well on any hardware, it is the interaction of spirit and flesh. The physical nature of mental action is felt every time a magus casts a spell that brings on fatigue. You can put your mind in that golem, but it won't be "you" any more. The new creature may use your name and claim to be you and think it's you, but it won't be you. Also, the effects of such a union are entirely unpredictable until someone tries it, but since such an act is a violation of Nature, it would surprise me if it did not entail major side effects.

My advice is to try it. You may be destroyed in the process, but your sodales will certainly learn from the experiment. Also, be aware that some magi would certainly argue that the new creature (golem body and magus mind) is no longer a magus and thus no longer protected by the Code. If this hybrid creature starts acting funny and somebody toasts it, plenty of Quaesitores would rule its destruction legal.

-- Jonathan Tweet

Is ice part of Aquam, or what?

In fourth edition, ice is described several ways. You can Muto Aquam water to make ice, but you apparently need a Terram requisite (e.g. Ice of Drowning). You can Creo Aquam to make ice, but you still need a Terram requisite (e.g. Encase in ice). You can make it snow with Creo Auram (Clouds of Summer Snow), but hailstones apparently need Terram (Rain of Stones). You can turn something into ice with only a Terram requisite (Flames of Sculpted Ice). And, if that weren't enough, you can also Perdo Ignem to make something really cold (Winter's Icy Touch).

So what's ice? Is it Terram? Is it Aquam and Terram? Auram and Terram? Ignem and Terram?

Canonically, when using Creo, you could probably make the strongest argument for Aquam with a Terram requisite, since that's what a majority of canonical Creo spells that deal with ice use. That way it incorporates water, so that it can melt, but is solid and thus incorporates aspects of Terram. However, others have argued that according to Aristotle's Forms, ice should be only Terram. Terram is cold and dry (while Aquam is cold and wet, Auram is warm and wet, and Ignem is warm and dry), and ice is cold and dry, so ice should be Terram. But you could also make an argument that ice is essentially very cold water, and thus use only Aquam with a couple of additional levels for the complexity of the shape and form.

Is combat busted?

Maintainer's Note: Fifth Edition rewrote the combat system so this entry applies only to Fourth Edition. This is not to say that the Fifth Edition system isn't busted - only that if it is, it's busted in new and different ways.

Many players have argued that the combat rules in fourth edition have a fatal flaw: apparently, because of Encumbrance penalties, wearing armor will hurt a character more than it will protect him. Some house rules that have been suggested by people who do not want armor to have this effect in their games are:

Weapon statistics as presented in the combat chapter are often modified by story guides. Common changes include the addition of historical weapons and changes to the statistics of the weapons in order to better fit the desires of the players. The quarterstaff and the whip in particular have become favorite targets to be toned down in effectiveness.

The fatigue roll is also often subject to modification by story guides. Some storyguides make the roll easier so that characters do not pass out from exhaustion in a matter of minutes, while others make the roll more difficult so highly skilled characters can lose fatigue on results other than botches. Page 168 tells the storyguide to modify the Ease Factor as a result of the activity that the character performed during a round.

-- Erik Tyrell

Maintainer's Note: Ordo Nobilis included optional rules to correct these perceived problems, with special combat encumbrance and fewer Fatigue rolls. For other questions concerning combat in Ars Magica, you can read a description of a sample Fourth Edition combat, with commentary.

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