I'm trying to start new group of Ars Magica (mix of 4 and 5).

I'm the storykeeper and had played it for years and it's one my favorites RPGs.

This a new System & Scenario for the players, they used to play D20, GURPS, WoD and Iron Kingdoms. For the first session I created a bunch of characters and give all pre made stuff to the players because the core rules and creating characters can be intimidating at first glance. Also, we have limited time and bringing up pre-made sheets can help focus in the game itself and introduce the basic concepts. Players enjoyed the first session and we are looking to the next. Everything is fine.

One player in particular is very excited and started to draw up a char from scratch.

But this player gets very disappointed about progression because you cannot pick more virtues and raise characteristics in the middle of an adventure. In fact he cannot believe there's no progression for characteristics and virtues.

He suggested we can create a house rule to increase characteristics and buy virtues using xp, maybe making it cost 10× the price used to calculate skills.

I replied there's no problem in creating house rules, but I can see a few problems ahead: For example, it could lead to over-powered characters full of virtues; or someone wasting xp on it which could be more efficiently used to raise key skills (for new chars); or turning veteran chars overpowered, when the costs for raising the key abilities is expensive and they use their xp on these new options instead.

I'm not a purist and already use a few house rules of my own, on a basis that is a mix between Ars Magica 4th and 5th edition.

I want to tell that player to play first and get used to the system, anyway. Learn how you use seasons to improve chars, etc. I already told him that this game has a very different pace to what he might be used to, and that the character is likely to live a long live and get very powerful. But he is still looking for a D&D-like progression system.

But while I feel the player's anxiety is misplaced and there's no need for such progression, it's just a game and the objective is just to have a fun afternoon each couple weeks. If this house rule is good and helps him enjoy the game more (without breaking it for me or the other players), I'd be willing to adopt it.

I see the following three options, and I wonder which one to choose:

  • Let the player use xp to raise the characteristics like he wants.
  • Say a big NO!
  • Just avoid the topic while hoping he can forget it or get a better understanding of the system.
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ @nvoigt Yet input from another Ars Magica expert might make the asker's decision easier. Likewise, such an expert's opinion might confirm or deny the asker's opinion that the new player's proposed house rules are bad for the game system. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 8, 2016 at 14:30
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @nvoigt The question is, essentially, Is this a good house rule? The site handles those. Admittedly, the site prefers practical gameplay experience with the house rule, but system experience can substitute in a pinch. It sounds like you should take your distaste for this question to Meta. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 8, 2016 at 18:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please answer in answers, not comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Dec 21, 2016 at 14:54

2 Answers 2


I say thee NAY! There shall not be such thing as XP but onley the progression to thee skills and arts thou hast achieved!

To increase characteristics there shall be MAGICK! An the true magick I bespake of here be they magick of Creo!

clears throat

Ok, there is more than enough to gain Characteristics as well as virtues (and flaws) so there is absolutely no need to crack with the HR whip.

Virtues to power.

Some virtues can be gained - like some variant of the gift - if you do the right things. Like gaining an infernal contract can instill you with the Infernal Gift. You can also be introduced to a house mystery, like the Bjornaers Heartbeast. And then there are even more obscure ways, for example through Original Research1A or via Ancient Magic1B or other means as decided by the GM, especially in respect to mundane or physical virtues.

You might deem some seasons dedicated to positioning yourself better in the courts (and gaining experience in this or that skill) fitting to grant some virtues, such as title, or an Adventure just brings it with it. Other virtues, like a mages rank, do have specific requests what needs to be fulfilled and come automatic.

Creo Corpus/Mentem & Muto Corpus

Creo can be used to alter physical (corpus) and mental (mentem) statistics with Magic, but doing so in a semi-permanent way demands a pretty hefty spell. Reference the Tables in the core book!

Level 35: Increase one of an animal’s Characteristics by one point, to no more than one higher than the average score for that kind of animal.2

Level 30: Increase one of a person’s physical Characteristics by one point, to no more than 0.3a

Level 35: Level 35: Increase one of a person’s mental Characteristics by one point, to no more than +1. 4

There is all the guideline you need! No XP involved. There is actually no XP involved in the whole Ars Magica 5E, just experience in certain things, and you can't have experience in being beautiful or strong, you can only warp the body or mind to befit the picture. And keep in mind, that permanencya increases the magnitude of spells: Those levels are for spells that befit the "Personal, Momentary, and Individual"5 spells.

For a longer duration you normally would need to push the magnitude by 4 for Year, netting you at least a Level 55 ritualistic spell (due to beiong a level>=50 spell) to gain a personal +1 on one physical or mental stat for one year - which clearly is not a task easily done and is a full 5 points into the "must be a ritual" area. But boosting the power like this is not even necessary really:

There are explicitly spells under Creo Mentem, that raise a characteristic permanently while being ritualistic at a lower level. The Gift of Reason (CrMe35) explicitly says:

"R: Touch, D: Mom, T: Ind, Ritual

Permanently increases the target’s Intelligence by 1 point, to no higher than 0.

(Base 30, +1 Touch)3b

It is permanent, and it has to be done as a Rite, and thus also demands 1 point of appropriate Vis per Magnitude6, so a sum of 7 of Creo and Mentem Vis in this case. This adds 7 botch dice - dangerous! - unless you manage to achieve calm conditions. Acquiring and preserving these is not the easiest task, but clearly "easier" than doing a rite that has a 1-year duration.

On the other hand, Muto Corpus can give minor abilities pretty easily:

Level 2: Change someone to give them a minor ability.7

For one year, adding 4 magnitudes makes this a spell of level 10 (3 magnitudes for 5, then 1 for 10), allowing it to be cast easily and spontaneously. However, what counts as a minor ability? The standard example is "Eyes of the cat", granting some sort of low light vision.

Using the level 10 base ("turn a human into a land animal") would allow adding drastic changes: virtues like Large, Small frame are well within the doable here, and 1-year duration would bring it to 30, so not even demanding a ritual spell.


What XP does he want to spend there at all? There are no unbound Experience Points in the system! And how to relate "XP" spent on increasing characteristics or virtues to experience in skills? No, that is not intended in the system, it would break the game. You can gain all those nifty characteristics by casting them upon yourself, while many virtues (and flaws!) are to be gained with roleplaying, research and yet again research!

You might tell him about some of the fundamental ideas behind Ars Magica's progression system:

You don't lift weight to become stronger and inflict more damage in the middle ages, you hone your skills in swordsmanship and fighting in armor to increase the damage you inflict. You might become stronger on the way, you might not, but that's a GM decision, as you also age while training. If you start as a child, then you do mayhaps get stronger, but at the same time, children characters do get different characteristics: a flat out -4 to 0 modifier on all of them8.

You don't become smarter because you study, you know better, thus it is raising your skills! Magic though allows you to alter your Mind and Body, so train your arts if you want to boost yourself.


a - the longest valid duration as of the basic rules unless some parts reference permanency is year5. This is a House Rule suggestion:
The GM might increase the chart by two+ steps. If this is done, I suggest to do this somewhat analog to the Arcane Connections9 table, adding Decade and Permanent/Infinite for +6 magnitudes from momentary.
The GM might at his own discretion add other steps between Decade and Permanent for balancing the rather large steps. Another idea to enforce the absolute rarity of such potent spells, would be to have the two+ extra steps each being worth 2+ magnitudes to step up, turning permanency into a +8+ magnitude adjustment (for a minimum of level 75 to alter Characteristics to +1).


1A - Houses of Hermes: True Lineages, p. 26-37, "Original Research"
1B - Ancient Magic (Preview), p6, "integrating ~"
2 - Core Rules 5th Ed, p 116, "Creo Animal Guidelines"
3a - Core Rules* 5th Ed, p 130, "Creo Corpus Guidelines"
3b - Core Rules* 5th Ed, p 130, "Creo Corpus Spells"
4 - Core Rules 5th Ed, p 148, "Creo Mentem Guidelines"
5 - Core Rules 5th Ed, p 111-115, "Chapter Nine - Spells"; here: p 112
6 - Core Rules 5th Ed, p 81: "Ritual Magic" & p83: "Vis must be used when casting Ritual spells, as noted above. [...] For every pawn of vis used, [...] roll an extra botch die if the casting roll is stress and comes up a zero.[...] includes [...] Ritual spell."
7 - Core Rules 5th Ed, p 132, "Muto Corpus Guidelines"
8 - Core Rules 5th Ed, p 29, "Starting Character Age"
9 - Core Rules 5th Ed, p 84, "Arcane Connections"

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer, but it's worth mentioning that some of the supplemental material for 5e also includes rules for gaining virtues, as well. Off the top of my head, the Mysteries Revised Edition includes rules for gaining new virtues by joining and learning the mysteries of mystery cults. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    May 21, 2021 at 22:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe I am hardly infallable and complete in the answer, but even those rules you point to strictly makegaining those traits a matter of story, not just spending XP. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    May 21, 2021 at 22:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's not like mechanics/story is an unambiguous binary dichotomy - and The Mysteries does provide rules for how often and quickly it should be possible to gain new virtues through a mystery cult, and for determining what rolls and difficulties are required, and is therefore a useful resource for anyone wanting to know how easy it "should" be to advance a character. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    May 23, 2021 at 22:41

We also use a combination of Ars 4th and 5th edition rules, and we have had a number of characters both use custom virtues/flaws and change their virtues/flaws over 7 years of campaign so far.

In our campaign, changing virtues/flaws are always story events. These are significant changes to a character, and should never be allowed on a whim. We had a whole sub-plot running for a year, revolving around one characters susceptibility to demonic taint, their delusion that demons were a myth, and that the 'spirits' he venerated were his ancestors.

This story arc had the potential to destroy the covenant, but even though we prevented that, it had profound effects on the both the character at the centre of it and the rest of his sodales.

In mechanical terms, we generally keep to the law of conservation of balance. A flaw can be removed or a virtue gained, but a side effect will be the loss of a virtue, or the gain of another flaw (or flaws) of a similar magnitude. Unlike at character creation, these adjustments are entirely under the control of the storyteller. Players can make suggestions, but ultimately when you push for this as a player, you have to be prepared to accept the consequences.

Ultimately, XP is about the experience your character gained as a result of their experiences. Virtues, flaws and characteristics are about the fundamental nature of your character, which is not easily changed. Sure a mage could decide to go to the gym, bulk up and make themselves stronger, but why would they when they could spend those seasons reading a corpus tome, or creating a spell which makes them as strong as an Ox.

Finally, there is already progression for characteristics, but it's only down and it's only once your character passes the age where they have to start making ageing rolls. *8')


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