Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kingdoms of Ars Magica

On the G+ Kingdom group, Ivan Vaghi posted about Ars Magica-like seeds for the game. I’ve written a little bit about how I would use Kingdom for Changeling the Lost or Legend of the Five Rings. Ben Robbins mentioned a couple of APs (I think) that have done something like that. He suggested that the “Winterhook's School for Wayward Wizards” in the book could be customized for it. I’ve had a chance to play Kingdom three times now and each time I’m left wanting to play more. I’ll try to write up my experiences with it in the future. You can see the video sessions for two of those- The Daily Sentinel and Battleship Orion here.

Ars Magica, IMHO, is the grand-daddy of community game. Certainly early D&D had some rules for that and establishing characters as lords as they rose in level. But Ars really created tools that others have borrowed from. It’s also a great game to look at to see how changes in editions have really shifted the tone of the game. The second edition sourcebooks remain some of my favorite fantasy books, but they look weirdly anime in places.

I suspect doing an Ars Magica/Kingdom game requires a shift of focus. In Ars Magica, despite the troupe play and Covenant structure, you can still have characters with a strong sense of individualism. You might have a reluctant PC who hopes to leave for another covenant or realm. In Kingdom, the characters have to be tied with some finality to the Kingdom and balance its survival with their own needs. You’d also want, I think, a pretty diverse cast of characters, though I imagine an all-Magus Kingdom game would be funny for their potential distance from the populace. Finally, I think you’d want a decent-size covenant to allow for plenty of power shifts and tensions.

So here’s a potential Ars Magica Kingdom Seed. It assumes knowledge of the setting- and leaves things pretty open. I think you could modify it to work with any Tribunal, tailoring it to the issues of that region. Sourcebooks for Covenants like Mistridge or Covenants might also be useful references. I’m also putting up a version of this as a Google doc in case anyone wants to play with it or save a copy for themselves.

CUSTOMIZE
Our covenant is [In the first blush of Spring/ Well-seasoned and at the apex of Summer/ Showing its age and entering the long Autumn/ In the darkness of Winter and hoping for a rebirth).

We’re located within the [Select Region] Tribunal. Note: you can see here for a full list of the Tribunals. These impact the kinds of threats and flavor of the game. Players may wish to optionally further define location, based on their experience and knowledge.
Our covenant is [Dedicated and focused in our service to House (choose a house)/ Mixed but loosely under the auspices and authority of House (choose a house)/ Independent and without primary allegiance to any House. ]

Our covenant is [modestly sized and tightly packed/ of goodly size with some room to expand/ large and sweeping]. It is located in [a faraway area in the middle of (a forest; a faerie forest; a valley; a desert; on an island; a lake or river; a swamp; on a mountain)/ closer to civilization and with an interesting feature (pick from previous list; in the dominion of farmers; underground; well hidden)/ in a city]. We [rely on concealment to keep us safe/ have some magical established protections/ have modest physical barriers to secure us/ live in a fortification or fortress].

The surrounding community [is unaware of our presence/ has heard rumors of our existence/ knows and fears us/ works with us quietly/ remains hostile/ has a ruler who has struck bargains with us].

THREATS
In some ways this will depend on the Tribunal and Location. But I think some general threats can be come up with a developed- perhaps also a list of one or two tied to particular areas.
  • Flamen agitation for power or control.
  • A plague sweeping through the region.
  • Angered faeries seeking revenge.
  • Depletion of the locale vis resources.
  • Famine gripping the countryside.
  • Impending foreign invasion.
  • Rival Covenant or House seeking control.
  • Breakdown of the facilities.
  • Discord among the Turb.
  • Church Inquisition and Influence.
  • Local Banditry.
  • Apprentices practicing restricted arts.
  • Twilight-struck senior mages.
  • Refugee mages from a fallen Covenant.
  • Diabolists practicing in the area.
  • Depletion of Covenant Resources.
  • Increasing demands from the Tribunal.
  • Liege lord asks for more gifts or wealth.
  • Merchant contacts threatened.
  • Haunted or Cursed Sections.

LOCATIONS
  • The central well or fountain
  • The high tower of the Senior Magi
  • The hall of the concillium
  • Nearby haunted ruins
  • A sacred glade
  • The kitchens
  • The Grog’s quarters
  • The apprentice’s chambers
  • The certamen field
  • The stable.
  • The entry hall
  • The dungeons
  • The rampart.
  • The dining hall
  • The library
  • The storehouse

CHARACTER CONCEPTS
Magi are an obvious choice, shaped by their House and training. But there’s some real pleasure to play out the other competing interests of the Covenant.
  • Popular Apprentice who Leads Others
  • Captain of the Guard
  • Experienced and Lame Bard who Makes This His Home
  • Foreign Scholar
  • Steward of the Household
  • Custos to a Senior Magi close to Twilight
  • Excitable Flamen Who Demands Action
  • Grizzled Veteran Sergeant
  • Persecuted Physker
  • Ambitious Craftsman
  • Worldly Mage Diplomat
  • Keeper of the Artifacts
  • Gifted Huntsman

CROSSROADS
  • Sell artifacts and relics to pay for food.
  • Reduce/increase the number of grogs.
  • Intervene in local civil war.
  • Fight back against faerie incursions.
  • Exploit the resources of a nearby sacred site.
  • Give in to the demands of the Tribunal.
  • Take in refugees from another Covenant.
  • Hand over Custos who committed a serious crime against locals.
  • Shelter a falsely accused witch.
  • Accede to the liege lord’s demands.
  • Spend resources to reinforce the walls.
  • Seek out new trade contacts.
  • Offer food to famine-struck communities.
  • Utilize the haunted/cursed section/resources of the Covenant.
  • Actively hunt for diabolists.
  • Remove a crazed senior magus