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I've owned the sourcebook for AM5 for years, and finally found a group that likes the creativity of the magic system as much as I do... but they (and I, personally) really dislike the 'multi character' aspect of the system (i.e. having magi locked away in labs for 3 months so a player has to play a companion/grog). It's probably a hangover from systems like D&D and Pathfinder, but we want to have one main character and be able to use them in every session.

Is there a way to modify AM5 to take care of that?

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A simple way to allow players to play a single character is to abstract the seasonal improvement system. Instead of requiring uninterrupted lab time, just allow characters to perform laboratory or other seasonal activities without any penalty from adventuring or otherwise performing other actions during those seasons.

If you want a more immediate, adventuring-focused game then simply remove all sources of xp other than Adventure xp, and vastly shorten how long it takes to perform activities such as transferring vis or designing a new spell - have it take a week, say, rather than a season (and something that would take multiple seasons instead takes multiple weeks, etc).

Keep in mind though that a lot of the charm of Ars Magica comes from the idea that wizards are cranky tower-dwelling misanthropes who largely want long uninterrupted periods to tinker with things in their laboratories. The mechanics naturally leading to wizards who either have some specific focus that drags them out of the lab, or who only leave the lab reluctantly in response to disaster or need for further materials, and thus model mythological/fantasy wizards, is a big part of the draw.

Typically the storyteller will make use of timeskips to create scenarios where magi have time to perform their various lab activities but then are present for the next 'adventure'. There's nothing to say that you could not use that mechanism to avoid companions or grogs being PCs entirely, yet still have the covenant/timeline progress. I've played in games where no-one really used companions - although, the magi being played were of different ages and levels of power (and sometimes apprentices) so there was still a bit of a 'these are the magi, and this is Tim, the 22 year old apprentice mage who knows one spell' vibe going on.

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Abridge the parts the troupe isn't interested in.

tl;dr Play the parts you like, crunch the numbers without storytelling the rest.

Use a set interval in between the adventures of the magi.

Base advancement

Sort out an amount of vis, xp, and seasons allotted between the interesting bits of story telling. Each player's magus gets this in addition to whatever they found in their adventure. Additionally, permit long projects to be put down and picked back up.

This avoids trying to refactor a rather complex system to fit shorter time scales and different resource constraints.

Account for time, but don't play through it.

From the player troupe's point of view, the time on the wall clock between the parts of the story they want to play is the import bit. The amount of story time between those events isn't felt by the players if you just skip it.

This simplifies the issue of passing time. We did this for a couple of one shots when playing through some adventures to get used to the combat & casting system using 8 season intervals. Basically, a bunch of magi go adventure every other year. Its enough xp and time to make a new spell, improve some skills, or improve an existing skill. It felt a lot like leveling up.

Grogs or companions are integral to many combats.

There are things in a saga that don't react well to bullets... arrows. Those are usually magi trying to cast a spell. Grogs and companions provide the front line combat roles.
They soak hits and dish out mundane wounds.

Have a bunch of pre-generated thug, berserker, archer, and footmen grogs for the magi to take with them as hirelings. We found the example grogs from the core book sufficient.


Lost of Content and Style Warning

Eschewing the "troupe style play" laid out in the introduction of the Ars Magica Fifth Edition introduction has consequences.

No individual story lines.

With all the group magi present for every story even the group plays through, there's little opportunity for individual story lines.

Limited opportunities for player investment in each other's story lines.

We had a house rule that a player was never allowed to play their own companion. So the other players had interesting characters to perform an integral part of a scene that was involved with the present magus's story line.

In the rare cases when a player didn't have a magus or companion, they were solely responsible for the grogs, the grog peanut gallery comments, and assistant story guide decisions.

Lots of content doesn't work without companions.

The Gift is a heck of a nerf for dealing with mundane people. It most cases, it makes normal interaction impossible. It also makes dealing with clergy directly very dangerous. The setting is geared in such a way that the mundane, divine, and arcane are all dangerous and interesting realms to tread in.

Eschewing or removing companions and grogs limits the kinds of stories that the troupe can effectively engage in.

The Covenant is more than the Magi

There are more stories to be had than just the adventures and times of the magi. E.g. While the magi busy in their labs trying to concoct their piece of a plan that will save the entire Hermetic Order from an ancient Roman necromancer in league with demons, the hijinks of a few companions being sent to procure a rare animal that turns out has gotten loose at a festival in a fiefdom controlled by a rival noble.

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I ran a game for two years and 6 PCs, with just magi PC's, it was fine. The caveat is that for social interaction purposes, at least one PC needs to have gentle gift. A second caveat already mentioned is that this makes stories heavily involving mundanes much more difficult to tell. That said, I made magical, faerie and other magi the primary antagonists/NPCs of the game, so it really wasn't an issue.

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Late to the party, so I hope you got your ArM5 game up and running.

The answer is, of course, you run it how you want to. You absolutely can run every session with just the magi as the player characters. That's how my first experience with Ars Magica ran, actually... That was second edition a while back, but you can do that in fifth.

Magi can be distracted from their studies for ten days each season without seeing an impact to their work. So for the most part, you can fit a story in there. So my view... You don't need to adjust the game at all. Just play the characters you want to play and crack on.

Having access to minor and supporting characters is a great way to play, but it's something that some groups may blend into over time or even forego entirely.

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Play Mage: the Ascension.

Ars Magicka is a game that was written by the same people who wrote the first edition of Mage: the Ascension, and there are strong connections between the two: it's set in an historical setting focusing on the mages of the Hermetic Order (one of the major groups that Mages might belong to in Mage), and much of the lore is shared between the two games.

While I believe that recent editions of Ars Magicka are, strictly speaking, set in an alternate timeline rather than the history of the World of Darkness (which Mage: the Ascension is a part of) as a result of different companies owning the rights to the games now, the two games are very closely related to each other - and Mage: the Ascension doesn't use the "troupe rule" were each player makes multiple characters that you dislike.

While Mage: the Ascension is set in the modern day, it does have historical supplements like Mage: Dark Ages, Mage: the Sorceror's Crusade (set in the Renaissance), and Mage: Victorian Age, if you would prefer to play a game set in an historical time period.

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    \$\begingroup\$ When you insist that this is not a system recommendation question and should be reopened, then answer the question by recommending a system, it makes your initial comment seem a bit disingenuous. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 16:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, this doesn't even answer the question. You just recommend playing a different game, and don't even explain how that would address OP's problem. This is why system recommendation questions are off topic - they attract answers like this. Flagging "not an answer". \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with Thomas Markov that this doesn't answer the question, but I will also say as someone who has played both Mage:The Ascension and Ars Magica that while they share some similarities they are very different games (caveat: I have not played Mage: The Sorceror's Crusade). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 19:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user2754 The issue is not that a system change has been suggested. The issue is that a system change suggestion is the entirety of this answer. The author does absolutely nothing to explain how changing systems will solve the problem stated in the question. This answer is nothing more than “try a different game” with nothing relating it to the question. This is not an answer. Not because it suggests a different game, but because it does not even begin to address the question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 19, 2021 at 21:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer would be improved if you drew direct parallels between the Ars Magical "creativity of the magic system" magic and the Mage "creativity" magic, including parallels and ways they differ. As written, you connect authors and setting, but not the thing the OP directly calls out as being what he likes about Ars Magica. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Commented Jul 20, 2021 at 13:53

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