Ars Magica Lite; Some Assumptions and a Base Mechanic

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “lite” as something “diminished in substance or seriousness . . . an innocuous or nonthreatening version”, and I want to begin this project by stressing that I am not criticizing the current edition of Ars Magica in any way, shape, or fashion. It’s a fantastic game that does what it claims to: provide comprehensive rules for playing a powerful wizard in a medieval Europe shaped from myth, legend, and history. The rules that I am going to suggest are my simple whims and half-baked ideas. None of them have been playtested, discussed, or are even fully formed at this point. This is not a revision, but an exercise in creative thinking. It is a work in progress, and I invite your responses. It is not a primer for Ars Magica 5th Edition. It is not an introductory adventure. It is my creative flailing with a much-loved rpg game.

Again, this is not criticism and not a replacement system. This is an exercise in rpg playfulness.

So, what is it?

It is a set of lists that encapsulates the choices offered to a player at character generation. It is not a complete repetition of the plethora of choices, but a pared down list of those most frequently selected, in my opinion. I may or may not explain the items on the various lists, sensitive as I am to the intellectual property of Atlas Games.

It is a new task resolution mechanic based on rolling multiple dice. I like dice and I like rolling dice, and I think the more dice you get to roll the better. I like the noise a fistful of dice make as they bash and bounce off the table and each other, and I especially like the sound of a half-dozen six-sided dice clattering across the counter. Since everything needs a fancy name, I’m going to call this this the “roll and add” mechanic. Roll a bunch of d6s and total the result.

Characters have Abilities and Arts, as per the regular rules. You roll a number of dice equal to your score in an Ability or two Arts. For example, if you have a Single Weapon score of 4 you roll 4d6 when you make an attack. Success is measured against a set number, which we can call an Ease Factor or Difficulty Check or Target Number (depending on which copyright we want to infringe upon), or against an opponent’s total. Highest roll wins, ties go to the defender. What is the default target number? Don’t know yet, but I’m hoping that I can gink a system that lets the target number equal the spell level of the standard, stock spells. If you want to cast a level 15 spell, add the two pertinent Arts, roll that many d6s, and add ’em up. Higher than a 15 and the spell is cast.

I’m also thinking that 1’s don’t count and 6’s roll again, but that might be too complicated for a dice mechanic that I don’t even know will work in the first place.

Is it too simple? Maybe. You tell me.

Advantages add dice. Your knight with the Single Weapon 4 skills gets an added dice if he is mounted. If he has Great Dexterity (a Virtue) he gets another dice.

Disadvantages subtract dice. Your same knight is wounded and must subtract a dice from his attack roll. You gave him Poor Dexterity (a Flaw), subtract another dice.

Advantages and Disadvantages are measured in handfuls, not little amounts. A situation that would give a character a +1 under the normal rules does not grant an Advantage. The beneficial situation modifier has to be large to get an Advantage. Virtues and Flaws correlate to Advantages and Disadvantages. How do they correlate? Stay tuned.

I just milked a cow. Crossing the Ag Quad at the university that employs me, I saw two young women standing in a cow trailer surrounded by a small crowd. They were offering milking lessons to raise bovine awareness. Having spend time on my uncle’s dairy farm when I was young, I was curious if I could still milk a cow, sans lesson. I can.

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3 Responses to Ars Magica Lite; Some Assumptions and a Base Mechanic

  1. Camo Coffey says:

    Lots of D6s works: WEG Star Wars was pretty successful with that system. One of the best things from that game was the multiple-actions-at-once rule: if you want to run over to a baddie, attack him, and then parry his response, all in the same turn, then your attack is at -1D and your parry at -2D, etc, until you run out of dice. That game used multiples of 5 for its target numbers, assuming 2 to 4D for most tests: 5 = Easy, 10 = Average, 15 = Difficult, 20 = Very Hard, 25 = Heroic, 30 = Almost Impossible.

    The main issue I can see: if you’re planning on leaving the various scores roughly similar to the existing system, you’ll be rolling an insane number of dice for a fairly average magus.

    And if you’re keeping the Characteristics fairly similar (though I’d strip that down if I were going for an AM-lite system, 4 stats is quite enough), then having a +/-1 is much more significant if it adds or removes a D6 than it is in the current rules, where you’re changing your odds by only +/-10%.

    Have you had a look at David’s incipient Japanese kami game (can’t remember what it’s called)? He has quite a nice roll-lots-of-D6 system, where you adjust the number of dice you roll based on whether or not you’re better or worse than the difficulty level. I think he assumes roughly 4D per test, with skills ranging from 1D (really bad) to 7D (really good).

    Anyways – keep us posted, quite interested in this!

    • Matt Ryan says:

      As you’ll see, I’m thinking of dumping Characteristics entirely. A Great Characteristic adds a dice.

      I don’t know anything about the old star wars game, sounds fun.

      David has a roll-lots-of-d6s system? Dang it! Forever in his shadow! Kidding. See, great minds think alike. I haven’t been following his efforts because he is making a non-combat game and I like rpg combat. I should take a look. Thanks Camo, and say hi to Mark when you see him.

  2. br1ck says:

    My only fear would be of going down the Shadowrun route (third edition?) where I needed nearly a brick of d6s to resolve things, and calculating your total took a while.

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