Ars Magica – Timekeeping

So, although I don’t run a campaign right now, my favorite roleplaying game for the past decade has been Atlas Games’s Ars Magica. I started playing it when the Fourth Edition was free, and now I’m deep into the weeds in the Fifth Edition.

The setting of Ars Magica, if I (or Project Redcap) haven’t already gushed about it to you, is Europe, starting about the year 1220. World history has occurred basically as written to that point, except that all the myths of medieval Europe are real in one way or another. There are demons and angels and faeries, and sometimes even dragons. But most importantly, there is magic. Players are wizards (“magi”), their companions (in the Doctor Who sense), and the support staff. Magic takes time to learn and prepare, but when undertaken, it can be quite powerful.

However, due to the grounding of the setting, I have to keep track of what’s going to happen. While the player magi may change the world, they’re not going to change all the world, everywhere, and some of it will effect them. Furthermore, Ars Magica lends itself to being embedded in historical continuity.

In order to do this, I generate years, season by season. A “season” is the standard non-adventure time-keeping unit in Ars Magica; magi literally spend years in their labs cooking things up, season after season, but when necessary adventure out (which, unless traveling far afield, usually takes less than a season).

Some of my early season notes looked like this (for a campaign based off the Dalmatian coast):

1221 Spring

  • What’s everyone doing this season?  The manor house labs are ready!
  • Although food sources are paid for, if the covenant wants to buy/rent land and farm it with laborers for cost savings (see Covenants for cost), let them know of this option.
  • If anyone has communication with mundane clergy, they will learn of the canonization of St Benedict of Nursia, founder of the Benedictine order.


  • A very attractive April.  Not much happens.


  • Two refugees from Venice arrive at Sister Sophia’s [one of the player magi] lab and living quarters.  They are a father and daughter of a trading family allied with Sister Sophia’s, and they have been bankrupted by poor trading decisions and ostracized for reasons they don’t really want to mention. They lean on Sister Sophia’s Christian charity to allow them to stay at the covenant.

Another version (for a campaign south of Genoa) from about the same time has more detail as to what’s happening with covenant (where the magi live) resources, along with world events from Wikipedia:

Spring 1221 (March, April, May) (Vis generated: 5p Creo – rain, 1p Creo – brothel, 2p Vim)

  • Redcap (Magdalena) arrives for regular business, news. She’s kind of a dreamy, faraway type – probably better suited to exploring for new vis sources.
    • The covenant Al-Hadir has evidently lost most of its agricultural lands to crusaders; not clear how they’re getting food or money.
    • Magdalena turned away a marriage proposal from a magus of the House of Benedetto; not interested in marrying into Merinita. Decent fellow otherwise, though; needs a more faerie-like girl.
    • Heard rumors that the fae known as “wild men” are coming back to the mountains.
    • Tractatus from Tulius, if bought – Q 9 in Herbam.
    • Verdi wants terram vis – will trade at standard rates.
    • Gunter of Brest of Unda Scientia wants 1p Aquam in return for a tractatus on Aquam next year.
  • Nizhny Novgorod City (Russia) is founded.

The year sheets above also had standard trading rates for vis, magical energy in physical form, based on assumed market prices. I found that actually not as helpful as my players tend not to trade large sums of vis or engage in vis arbitrage.

My last campaign, set in the Rhine Tribunal, reached the peak of how I thought this should work.

Collect vis collectable in spring (unless player action necessary). Magi determine their lab activities for the season
March 1221
News Received From Mundane Sources

  • The brewer in Bitburg has discharged his current apprentice for incompetence (see below for reasons and repercussions).


  • None of note.


  • The local brewer has had his latest batch of beer spoil. This means that the inn’s usual beer supply is disrupted. The players may just buy more beer (2 mythic pounds) or they can try to use magical means to fix/get more beer.

April 1221
News Received From Mundane Sources

  • From your contacts in Bitburg: The Duke of Bavaria, the Margrave of Baden-Baden, and the leadership of the Teutonic knights are off to crusade in the Holy Land; they set out for Damietta in Egypt earlier this month.


  • None


  • Hartwin is off back to Koblenz for a wedding.  Some among the grogs suggest that, as an honored guest of the covenant, he have a safety escort.

May 1221
News Received From Mundane Sources

  • From the clerk of the Archbishop of Trier – Frederick II has opened a new university at Padua.
  • The carpenters’ guildmaster’s daughter got married last month.  You weren’t invited because you’re not that tight with the folks in Koblenz.  Hartwin was, though, and he thought it was pretty great.


  • Messenger from the Archbishop of Cologne – well-dressed guy with a small military retinue.  Costs one mythic pound to feed him and horses and whatnot.Has a message for the players.


  • Englebert (II), the Archbishop of Cologne, thanks the magi for tracking down who was screwing around with the Abbess of Essen. Asks them, if they wouldn’t mind (“hint hint” – also he has like 20 soldiers already on their doorstep) if they could look into the disappearance of another nun to see if it was a wizard. See New Nun Adventure.
  • May 23 – Short partial solar eclipse.
  • Fair at Bitburg. Grogs who are not out helping the investigation will likely want to go.
    • A younger woman with the fair gets one of the grogs drunk and claims to have married him in a clandestine ceremony (this is not actually true, but unless magic is used to prove it, few will know for sure).  This is a problem because the grog is already betrothed to the daughter of a local farmer, and it will be unpleasant for everyone involved if that doesn’t happen.  The grog will look to the player magi and companions to get him out of this.

My perpetually future Ars Magica campaign has year sheets in this mold as well, plus detailed sections for the adventures.


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