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Ars Magica - what supplements to buy?

Rangdo

I used to be Ovid.
Validated User
A question from me: I know a fair amount of medieval history, so how useful would the 'mundane setting' books be for me? I'm thinking of Lord of Men, The Church and City and Guild in particular. If they treat Mythic Europe as its own setting, I might be interested. But if Lords of Men, for example, is basically Feudalism 101, then I'm not.
 

Litpho

Wandering stranger
RPGnet Member
Validated User
A question from me: I know a fair amount of medieval history, so how useful would the 'mundane setting' books be for me? I'm thinking of Lord of Men, The Church and City and Guild in particular. If they treat Mythic Europe as its own setting, I might be interested. But if Lords of Men, for example, is basically Feudalism 101, then I'm not.
Lords of Men has quite a bit of rules (including extra combat options and mass combat). The Church and City & Guild are very well written and all, but less essential if you are already well-versed in their respective subjects. Still nice for when you want to build Grogs/Companions in those areas, but nothing you couldn't wing if necessary.
 

basilisk

New member
Banned
I recently bought "Mysteries" by mistake intending to buy "Mystery Cults" (I blame the "people who bought this also bought...." feature on Amazon). Can't say I regret it--lots of fiddly bits to play with, though as it says in the beginning chapter, you will not get a chance to use all of it. There's at least 3 different forms of magical immortality included, plus a large number of ways to increase a character's power all tied in with the natural restriction that the people who know these secrets also want to keep them secret, only teaching them to like-minded confederates. If you, as Storyguide/ST/game master/whatever, don't want to use something you don't have to have it available. It is very much a case of the authors giving you a bunch of cool stuff to pick through as desired.
 

Tyrrell

Go Play Ars Magica
Validated User
It, of course, depends on what you want to do with your game.

I like others up the thread would also recommend not throwing all of the options at a the players at once.

I find that I use covenants a great deal for the lab personalization, advanced library rules (both of which are fine but would be improved with another run through), and craft magic.

I also use he expanded combat in Lords of Men but house ruling this would be an equally valid choice.

I think that for getting across to your players what the game should be about (providing that you want a game similar to what I want) I really like ancient magic, Hermetic Projects. and to a lesser extent Magi of Hermes. If I were starting off without any other books I might well get just these three an run a game with their scope.

The alternate character generation rules and the large number of flaws in Grogs appeal to me but I haven't yet run a game since the book came out. (I believe that there is an expansion of the character generation system in a Sub rose -fanzine- article that expands it to all character types so it's available pretty inexpensively)

As far as the four "fluff" books:
  • My favorite fluff book is Art and Academe in that it gives you the science and medicine that exist in this medieval world and tells you how things really work. It makes the familiar setting remarkably exotic whike simultaneously doing stuff like giving you a model of the mind that is clear enough to answer most questions your players generate when they're creating mentem spells, giving the philosophical and scientific background for a Hermetic Apollo mission to the moon in a Ptolemaic universe, and providing a story hook that I love about a gifted artist caught in the struggle between two supernatural muses where the options discussed are a) help one of the muses win the artist, b help the artist to find his own path and make his own choices, and c render down both muses for vis and let the artist fend for himself if he's so talented.
  • I also like the church book I learned a great deal from it and it has fun hooks in it about pilgrimages and demons.
  • Lords of men is a really good book as well, it just doesn't cover material as novel as the Church or Art and Academe.
  • City and guild is more about city people and characters specifically craftsmen and merchants than about cities as a whole, I don't find it quite as useful as the other three. I have referred to its section covering travel in Mythic Europe a good bit though.


The House books each have a sort of purpose to them true lineages is a bit of a setting book that provides the way that the order of hermes works. Mystery cults is about the mysteries of the four mystery houses, it has to pull a bit more weight in the rules department than the other two house books so there isn't as much outside material in it. Societates is a book that I find myself referring to a lot. It has more detail about how hermetic magic works from a practical perspective, specifically in the Jerbiton and Flambeau chapters.

Realm books are also used somewhat frequently. Faeries, magical creatures and demons make excellent antagonists, as do faerie wizards and diabolists. Holy magicians are lots of fun in that they present groups of formidable power who may work at cross purposes to the PC's but the PC's will often be unwilling to engage in violence with them. The Magic book also gets some use in making familiars.
 

Hexabolic

Registered User
Validated User
For starting out, I would invest in the Houses of Hermes books. They do a neat job of providing a consistent taxonomy to the various Houses, and bring each House alive in an exciting, interesting way. It's essential for getting the Houses as meta-characters in the setting, and offers inspiration and guidance for fleshing out magi within a philosophical and background context. I loved the Tytalus Leper Magi and Titanoi, for instance, and enjoyed the hell out of how the Tremere become cool and admirable instead of the White Wolf foredoomed vampire wizards.

All in all, I view these three books as essential, almost as companion volumes of the core game.
 

Tyrrell

Go Play Ars Magica
Validated User
A question from me: I know a fair amount of medieval history, so how useful would the 'mundane setting' books be for me? I'm thinking of Lord of Men, The Church and City and Guild in particular. If they treat Mythic Europe as its own setting, I might be interested. But if Lords of Men, for example, is basically Feudalism 101, then I'm not.
Lords of Men is knights and nobilitynot fudalism (if that makes sense) it talks about the members of a court, the obligations of a lord the people who are around him, and the social and economic responsibilities of the nobles around the lord. Its not exactly the stuff I got from reading life in a medieval [thing] or a college medieval history textbook or biographies. It is more about story hooks for gaming. But if you're quite familiar, the amount of mythic Europe vs. historical Europe isn't that much. Certainly relations between the order and the nobles and interactions between faerie aping nobles are discussed but they they take up only a few chapters of the book.

The Church has a fair amount of magic in it. It has pilgrimages and hermits written up as something much like mystery initiation, it has the three large treatments of corrupted monks as a saga element, it has a take on knights militant with holy magic. This material does tie in with the holy and infernal realm books. It is usable by itself but much richer if you have the options in the other books.

City and Guild is very much about merchants and craftsmen there are a few mythic things there are for example craftsman that are influenced by a supernatural ream and can make magical products but it very grounded in the historical rather than the mythological.
 
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g33k

Registered User
Validated User
Other than the obvious "All of them", what supplements would you recommend and why? Where do I begin my collection after the corebook and which supplements do you see as the weaker ones? Both fluff and crunch are valid as reasons for your recommendation.
"Jason Brennan" and "Ovarwa"(Ken) have decent overviews, though I differ from each of them on some details.

I'll add my voice to the general call for:
- All the HoH books
- - Particularly HoH:Mystery Cults, as grasping those aspects often informs initial character-design.
- - Particularly covering any House(s) that particular players are very-enthusiastic about.
I consider those ones essential for character-generation.

Also the Tribunal-book(s) where your covenant is set; multiple Tribunal-books may well be VERY relevant if you're near a border or in some "grey zone" -- e.g. the Channel Islands have IIRC:
- *NO* canonical covenants
- Politically sit with the Duke of Normandy aka the King of England
- Ecclesiastically set under a French bishopric
So if your Troupe wanted to play there, I'd consider both France and England tribunal-books (and likely "The Church" as one of the main actors in the region). Again, I'd want those early in the Saga.

I'd probably call for one or more of the Realms of Power books. Here, I'd talk it over with the Troupe, probably after character-generation and maybe even after first-adventure(s). The question is: what sorts of challenges does your group want? If they want a Faerie-heavy saga, then RoP:Faerie is a must-have; if they're "meh" on the fae, then make it a 2nd-tier acquisition. Same-same for demons (or Infernally-corrupted mortals) & sundry-MagicRealm-beings & their respective RoP:books. If they really want to focus on human-centric stuff -- political infighting within the Order, proto-Inquisition from the Church, pressure from Nobles, merchant-princes & robber-barons, etc etc etc... then the you might even put the whole RoP quartet on hold... though they're all really good, even if not directly-applicable to your Saga. And, of course, one can have purely-human opposition who are nevertheless driven by (and use mechanics from) one of those Realms -- the classic foe here being Infernal sorcerors.

Depending on how combat-heavy your playstyle is, "Lords of Men" may be a must-have. Obviously, it's also *the* nobility-heavy-saga sourcebook!

Hedge Magic and Rival Magic I kinda-sorta lump together, both offering the twin virtues of (a) NPC challenges & (b) possible ExMisc source-traditions (or straight-up Consortes play) for PC and NPC alike; also note that the RoP:Infernal book lets you create other flavors of mortal-wizard NPC opposition (either loners or "dark order" groups) AND dark-tainted PC's, without ever needing to bring in any actual "demons" at all... With a bit of work, "Ancient Magic" can also do that HM/RM pair of services, though (as noted) the primary intent here is for a Seeker-style saga. Particularly-twisted might be an "Ancient Magic" lure whose sources are deeply (though not inextricably) entwined with RoP:I corruption... ;-)

Covenants: if your group "gets it" about the Covenant-as-metacharacter, if building a Covenant through the seasons, across not just mortal generations but centuries of magi... if they realize it as a fabulous source of stories (to build-up their powerbase, and to defend it from various threats)... this is a must-have book. Also, if you have one or more players who want have lab-rat PC's whose prideNjoy is their lab/sancta -- and whose PLAYER wants to tweak and fiddle with that stuff! -- then get this book early-on in the Saga. If covenant-centric stories hold little to no interest, then skip it entirely!
 

Heaven's Thunder Hammer

New member
Banned
For me, running the game I've found the most useful books have been:

1.) Extra core rule books is REALLY handy for Magus characters

2.) Covenants: The extra boons and hooks are great, along with expanded library and laboratory rules. To use the complex wealth management system, I found it works best with a spreadsheet. Though the authors are quite upfront you don't need to use those rules either. I did not like the Covenant Governance rules and ignore them.

3.) A tribunal book, if a 5E one exists. The 4E ones are not baaad, but 5E change the tone and style of the game so much that you're better off with a 5E one, if possible.

4.) The House of Hermes Trilogy is very useful, as each house is expanded and fleshed out quite a bit. All of them are useful in different ways.

5.) Whichever few supplements really catch your eye, as mentioned earlier.
 
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SunlessNick

Mildly Darkened One
Validated User
My own view, which is informed by liking Ars Magica as a supernatural setting, but finding the Order itself to be the least compelling thing about it:

The four Realm books are excellent. My favourite is Divine, my least favourite Magic. Divine comes with a treatment of divine auras, angels, direct blessings by God (relics, true faith, holy magic, and so on), and religions (the big three, some subsects, and some surviving followers of Sol Invictus), among other bits and pieces. Infernal pays more attention to demons than Divine does to angels, covers black magic as both a power and a curse, and has infernal groups both misguided and malicious. Faerie takes a view of the fae (living folk-story components) that's more modern than mediaeval, but designs the details so that they act in a more mediaeval way (plus, the living story components angle pays off brilliantly in another book); it also goes into detail about Arcadia, fae blood, and fae magic. Magic has surprisingly little on the realm itself, and is mostly treatments of magically enhanced things: animals, spirits, people, objects, substances, and so on.

Hedge Magic is excellent, and based more on real-world folklore (but not wholly) than the Order of Hermes. It produces characters midway between a companion and a mage in potency (the elemntalists, which are what they sound like, and fairly fantasy; folk-wiches; the grugachan, which are another kind of folk-witch; learned magicians, which are similar to Hermetic magi, but lower key and more rooted in Mundane scholarship; nightwalkers, which are astrally projecting guardians of their communities; and vitkir, which are runecasters). The traidtions it describes are ones that can easily congregate in groups of their own, so you could use them as PC's for a change of pace from the Order. On the other hand, the different types of hedge magician would rarely interact with each other - so you could do an all-Nightwalker or all Learned Magican game, but you wouldn't be using a lot of the book if you did. On the gripping hand Order magi may plausibly interact with any of them, and all of them have representives in House Ex Miscllanea.

Rival Magic is about magicial orders powerful enough to pose a threat to a whole Tribuneral (yes Tribuneral, not covenant, though probably not the whole Order). Two of them are magically badass, and only likely to be enemies (Amazon sorceresses and the Muspelli, who are based on the Jotun of Norse myth). One is potentially dangerous mostly through its mundane ties, and could be treated with if it could be made sure of being exempt from the usual join or die rule (the Augustan Brotherhood, who derive their magic from the works of Virgil; this group would also be an interesting alternative group for PC's to belong to). The fourth isn't likely to be a problem unless the Order causes trouble for it first, in which case it has significant home ground advantages (the sorcerers of Soqotra, which is an island in the Arabian Sea). Games involving these groups are likely to be high stakes - unless that's the intended tone for the saga as a whole, using them all might be overkill, which might count against it.

Ancient Magic on the other hand is mostly about dead traditions. Characters who go looking for these are engaging in magical archaeology. Again, unless that's intended to be the main focus of a saga, using more than a small portion of the book at a time is liable to be overkill. You have the language of Adam (the ultimate in true name magic), the magic of the Grigori (much like hermetic language, but free of certain of the limits of magic), Canaanite Necromancy (necromancy on steroids), Defixio Magic (cursing on steroids), Fertility Magic (right from the Ice Age, which kinda clashes with some of the setting's assumptions, but is hella atmospheric), Heron of Alexandria's legacy (magical versions of the mechanica the rw Heron could make), the Hesperides (a new way of casting across distances), Hyperborean Magic (the magic of Apollo), and the Order of Odin (still extant, more powerful runecasters than the ones in Hedge Magic, and enemies of both the Order and the Muspelli). Any of these would have major implications if integrated into Hermetic magic, enough that several Houses would go to some effort to make it happen (or not happen). Again, it's a high stakes supplement.

Mysteries is about special techniques that are well-known inside the Order - enough that bringing them in represents a big deal for the relevant characters, but not for the saga as a whole. Things like alchemy, spirits, numerology, and so on. Comes with a collection of practicing groups, some of which could repurposed as magical organisations outside the Order.

Tribuneral books generally have a local history, mixing the real and the Mythic; an overview of the local Order and mundane society; a region by region breakdown with hooks, notable features and covenants; and a loot at how the four realms generally make themselves felt. They're more useful to most people than me, though I've found value in a couple. Sundered Eagle is about Greece and Anatolia, and most of al Constantinople; it's set up as a comfortable area for mages, with resources plentiful. Against the Dark (Transylvania) is set up as a Tribuneral dominated by a particular House (Tremere obviously), and comes with a loot at introducing a horror element into games, including vampire-hunting arts.
Spoiler: Show
Vampires in this setting are faeries that take the form of deceased people and prey on their neighbours - the faerie is slotting into vampire folklore, so it can't be anyone, it has to be someone about whom vampire stories would make sense, like a suicide - and they get vitality from their depradations and the fear it causes. Of course most vampire-as-enemy stories end with the vampire's death, so if a hunter comes along and "kills" the vampire using the correct method, then that climactic action is a really big meal for the faerie - the one it's really hoping for - but only if it plays along, by abandoning the role of that particular vampire, and finding some other potentially vampiric decedent to "be."
Spoiler: Show


Cradle and Crescent is set up something like a Tribuneral book, but as a place to explore and maybe set one up. It's well-done, but covers a lot of ground, which means its shrift isn't as long as it should be. There's a lot more magic crossing into daily life, partly down to its role as alien and more fantastical ground for magi, but also down to going for an Arabian Nights vibe. As well as the region, it writes up Zoroastrianism the way Divine does the other monotheisms, has a chapter on the Djinn (they're an order of spirits unto themselves, which chart a path mixing up allegiances to any of the Realms), and the Suhhar (an order of summoners, set up as a local rival to magi).

I don't have the House books or the "mundane" books.
 
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