Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Unbuilt Campaigns: Mage the Sorcerers Crusade

Some campaigns never launch. Those hurt a little less than ones cut short (Changeling the Lost; White Mountain, Black River; Exalted: Dragon Blooded). Sometimes the effort and thinking eventually gets used or repurposed. Sometimes you look back on it and wonder what exactly you were thinking. That's sort of the case with Mage the Sorcerers Crusade. I'm working on a Renaissance portal for OCI, drawing from Assassin's Creed, 7th Sea, Lace & Steel, The Golden Compass, and MtSC. That sent me hunting for notes I'd written up for a Sorcerer's Crusade game back in 2002. Back then I wanted to bring in more Ars Magica elements and establish a truce in the war between the factions. You can see my brainstorming  for that below. I'll spare you (for the moment) the bad game fiction I wrote as an intro. I wouldn't approach a game the same way today- certainly not building up so much without player input. Anyway check it out; I think imaginative failures can still be useful.

Game begins with the various Magi all having made some extreme error in their initiation, having a wayward mentor, being caught up in political shenanigans, or some other incident. They are hauled before a meeting of the Quesitori; they are the group that tries harder than any other to maintain a semblance of unity among the various houses and traditions. In this opening gambit, they will see the split among the various groups and have a chance to meet people from a variety of places. There should also be discussion of changes to the sigil system, political currents, a wizard’s march and so on…the destruction of a house (or perhaps just loss of contact).

In any case, they are assigned to the care of an ancient and somewhat twilight touched Magus, one whose age and research has been noted. He has requested for a number of seasons to have a group assigned to him to assist in his works. They will travel to a secondary covenant with a Redcap. This one should be smallish and provide them with an opportunity to meet some more people. Imply that in the absence of K, he is to be their director. Depending on what their custos or consors seem like, those may stay here rather than moving on.

K the Chainer is an elderly Magus. He will give them a simple room and test their abilities in a number of ways. Once he is certain of them, he will speak with them about his own fears of senility and his issues with memory and recall. He will send them on a quest to recover an ancient object whose powers revolve around memory. He has researched this and found the history of an artifact which may date back to Carthage and beyond. He has obtained some knowledge about the resting place of this item and the key to enter the vaults. They will travel there to bring it back to him.

On the journey, they will have at least one moment of crossed destinies. At a crossroads they will split from another group heading in the same direction. (Later they will find someone from this group in one of the bags, taken by The Forgot.). They will reach the place, but find it under the influence of one of the more conservative Order of Reason holdings. They will have to make their way through and down into the catacombs. Smallish dungeon adventure with some challenges. They find the sphere at the end, guarded by someone who will tell them they don’t really want what he has to offer. In whatever process happens, the sphere will be shattered and they will have the power of the sphere invested in their own mind (perhaps some kind of differential memory advantage…several aspects of it.)

They return to K the Chainer only to find him dead. They will find certain of his notes taken, however, they will also find a map upon which they will see some strange markings. Something points them to a location perhaps a week away from the other covenant they met the people at. That’s not too bad a distance, magically speaking but keeps them from getting too chummy.

They can go there. What they will find is a smallish town, with fancy walls and such. There should be an oddness to the place. The town is perhaps an hour (plus) away from the site on the top of the hill. There are several magical features nearby: an abandoned caern, help by a spirit, a strange Fey hole that drops through to nothing, but with some nature spirits around, another source of vis, a tower sticking out at a nearly horizontal angle from a cliffside, some other magical things. The building itself is largish but empty; there are perhaps some instruments left behind bearing marks. There is a mark for a Covenant, clearly in the style of the other Covenants, which the group has never heard of. Which one this will be is up to you. There are several options…it could be one of the Order of Hermes house that was vanished to create this effect. OOH what could be interesting is if this place is call XXX House of House XXX and that is the name of the main chantry of another order…but this one is clearly not that one and vice versa. It could point to the sublimation of a whole section of the Order.

*Stepping off point into a strange pocket, portion of the Umbra. Black Lake.

In any case, internally they should find another potent source of vis, gone a bit wild. There are no servants, but a garden or some-such could be set up to feed them. Inside they can find a giant triparte stone clock in the basement. Let them have a number of sessions settling in, figuring out what is wrong with the town. Meeting some of the surrounding figures. Eventually putting together the clues to how to open the clock. The implication should be that the clock is a recent addition to the place, sealing away something below. It seems to hold an protect.

Down below they will find the other labs and such of the covenant. It should be clear to them from their earlier popping around that there ought to be more; they will find that here, including a library (which will have the marks of whatever house is involved). Eventually they will find the bags (after having to crawl through and passing some tests). Magical Animals (the dogs again…they are such great images). There they will first encounter the size of the problem facing them.

Now, at this point we have a campaign…one about resources, finding places to go…figuring out what is going on. Need to consider the clues at hand for this. What are the leads, what is happening, how can it lead to encounters and interactions with the other covenants. Hunting for items or resources.

In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences.
- Robert Ingersoll

How should we explain to someone what a game is? I imagine that we should describe games to him, and we might add: "This and similar things are called games." And do we know any more about it ourselves?

The more I think about it the more I like the idea of them coming on what appears to be a Chapterhouse of an existing covenant (could be the main house, not sure). This might make them nervous and/or worried about the activities of that group. However, they have been blanketed by the same charm of forgetting as everyone else, even those who participated in this or have been brought in by The Forgot. They may be trained and act, but after they will forget until the day when this change comes to pass. This can create some interesting things, especially if they meet someone who has been a great villain to them but has now forgotten that.

The Forgot are constrained in their own way. They have an almost wraith like existence. They can form themselves corporally and use some of their power. This is equivalent to them stepping out of the Umbra; the layer that they exist in is all about mind and memory. When they manifest in this way they are potent but vulnerable. They will also be desperate if they are caught or captured. However a good deal of their work revolves around possession and control of persons. Often they will find someone and rest in their soul almost semi-permanently, making them over time susceptible to their control without arousing their attention. The Forgot can also seize control of other people quickly, but this is an intrusive effect and will likely stand in their mind after. If The Forgot is held in place and kept from leaving, he will be forced to destroy himself in a flash of magical energy. This energy is all about forget and about destiny. The players (assuming this goes as I have spelled it out here) will be relatively protected from too much of the memory effect. However, they may have a Fate laid upon them.

Need to look through the lists of the 13 and consider. If possible, a number of them should be represented or changed over into the some of the Orders.

For example: Bjorner could adopt in old Diende people and move toward the more Druidic order as presented in the MSC book.

House Jerbiton could split and form a couple of the Order of Reason groups. This is probably more likely for Veriditus (Items) given the reliance on items and construction.

Certain portions of Quesitori or Flambeau could end up forming some of the more militant factions of the Order of Reason.

The RedCaps (Mercere) could become Explorators.

House Ex Miscellania would become the focal point for the arrival of other forms of magic.

If possible, I’d like to end up with 6, maybe 7 Houses of Hermes that make up the Hermetic Order. Criamon, Bonsaigus, Tytlaus?, Tremere?

Who else is there Meritina (Fey)? Would they be appropriate for certain of the traditions?

From other notes: Daedeleans vs. the Tzghul? What is that about? Also consider running this in the earliest part of the period 1380-1420. Also note what it says about the Seven Thunders. Need to take these considerations in.

Some of the more interesting of the NPCs in the bags will be people who perhaps saw a pattern in these changes. These can then be traced back in an effort to uncover what happened. There, as Sherri suggests, ought to be vis at the top of the bags.

Need care to ensure that this doesn’t just become a fantasy game. There should be that tension between the populace nearby (and in general)-- the Order of Reason—the other traditions—and their own goals. There should be a political aspect to things that implies some real tension.

Perhaps the point is not that they can stop the disaster which is going to fall, but that they can fight against it. Imagine that the Chantry not far away from where they are is, in fact, a retirement community. Here old people, old magus who have mostly given up practicing magic have gathered. It looks for all intents and purposes like a monastery. There could be a character who is raised among the old men there. Either the Primus of the Chantry or else one of the important people there could be an ally. If I think about this, it could be just off the path from some crossroads between several of the Tribunals. Consider what the politics are of the nearest places. They could certainly present themselves as affiliated with the retirement house and therefore avoid too much scrutiny.

Have to consider what kinds of characters would make good protagonists. Need a strong fourth player (assuming JM, SH, SS…need one or two more…someone to lighten the mood?). Need to go through and look at the various advantages and disadvantages presented in MSC and beyond. Could Ars stuff be adapted? Is there “normal” material which would be useful? Need to make it such that the Custos and Companions who are part of the group have a certain importance and life on their own. As well, while not as powerful as the Magi, they should have a set of skills which will serve them well in the field.

Consider what kinds of resources should be available to them at that place…I don’t want it to be a candy factory, but they should be able to survive and build up from what they start with. Ideally a certain portion of the game should revolve around them discovering hidden or lost resources in the area and having to go and gather those things again.

I like the idea of the groups being tangled together from the various Orders and Traditions. I need to see what the historical timeline is like. Consider how to build up the differences while at the same time keeping some continuity. The cracks should just be starting to show…with some of the groups having split off earlier and not having been caged in. One reason could be a split among the Quesitori. This would lead to certain weaknesses and would allow the Order to become split. For that break to occur, moving from the Ars Magica traditions, there would have to be a breakdown of the ability for enforcement to be managed.

We can easily picture Jerbiton carefully working itself such that attacking it or trying to affect its power would result in more destruction. This insulation would be matched by a split within Veriditus. Some would join with the Craftmason’s existing mystical order while others would form the XXXX.

One of the considerations is whether the Tremere have turned or not. Certainly there will be some discussion of that in the books. The web pages pins the date at around 1100. I’m not sure how that works in with the continuity provided in the game book, but I can guess OK.

A certain portion of the OoR arises independently; some come about from defections or changes in the philosophy of certain Hermetics. The rise of Divinely inspired magi makes the Magi nervous.

Essential Differences: OoR: a different kind of elitism, a sense of it as Art and therefore something which anyone can do, in religious cases—a different sense of why people are gifted with the power. OoR believes in contact with the world, in reshaping people’s approach with their arts and in bringing these things into contact with the mundanes. They believe in active uplifting and proselytizing. A number of them also clearly believe that rationality and scientific method are the tools to be used [this is not so far off from the Hermetic Order which also practices these things] however these OoR people believe that Art follows established patterns for mundane activities and that this method is has further implications than just the process they are working through. They believe in Order and Control through this.

The Celestial Masters: Moderate. Golo’s link.
The Guild: Split; a number coming from the Jerbiton background. They have an acute sense of realpolitik.
Explorators: Less interested. Has had encounters with the Chinese OoR and was disappointed. Some of these people come out of House Mercere.
Cabal of Pure Thought (Gabrielites): The most fanatical of the groups but also the one with the most potential friction with the rest of the Order. The Masons keep them in line with discussions of god’s work…however, there is tension over how this dynamic is read.
Artisans: the most actively moderate—strong ties to Verditas. The most fanatical members of this house move to the Masons.
The Masons: Arising out of certain Germanic philosophical mindsets, tied to old classical philosophies, rejecting the idea that Hermetic systems have any logic to them. This group came out of people who had not had any contact with the Magi, but learned to hate them early on.

Among the Hermetics, a number of them follow very similar senses to OoR procedures. Certainly Verditas, Bonsaigus, Flambeau and Tytalus all follow these patterns—and the Quesitori. Therefore the split will come as something of a shock to them. They will attempt to hold the line. They will also be the ones who will push for a truce when the opportunity presents itself. Bjorner stands close by the skills of the Old Ones…the Verbena may arise out of their skill sets; a number may join the Black Forest folk. Meritina: contact with the Fae. May be the one that has most contact with the Witches (if not Ex Misc). Ex Misc: has had contact with foreigners. Would be contact point for Al-Baitani, Akashics, etc. Criamon: has members of their cabal who have had contact with the Al-Baitani and the Sins of Chronos.

Hermes: Bonsaigus, Verditas, Quesitori, Mercere: These houses are most moderate about the philosophical tradition. Would try to create a bridge between the two groups.

Hermes: Flambeau, Tytalus: Dedicated to the Hermetic tradition and the methodology…not seeing a huge split in the ways between, except on the ambition front. Both tend to be militant and would be readying themselves for the conflict to come.

Hermes: Bjorner: Would have suffered badly, falling back to the northern reaches. Point of contact for Pagan, Verbena and Witches. Oppositional to the OoR because of issues of faith and control. If there are Dreamspeakers, they are among this hours or Meritina.

Hermes: Criamon: Has among itself some of the Sons of Chronos. Opposed to OoR on philosophical grounds concerning method, rationality and control.

Hermes: Meritina: Opposed to OoR on basis of faith, the persecution of the Fey and the destruction of certain places of power.

Hermes: Jerbiton: Gone. Most left for real world paths. A goodly chunk having become part of the Guild. The Middle Eastern portion staying relatively intact, but having to split from the Hermetics in the Crusades. Probably not identified as a House as such. Part of the mix of middle eastern and Asian sorceries. Opposition is based on Muslim connections.

Ex Miscellania: Includes Hedge Mages, Shamans, the various foreign refugees, etc. Least influential of houses and opposed to OoR because so many of their members represent and anathema to the OoR structure.

Celestial Chorus: Strange bedfellows for the Hermetics. Ties are closest to Quesitori and Mercere, for structure and contacts. Still dislike the Hermetic ways, but opposed to the OoR vision on spiritual contact. Especially displeased with the treatment of Joan of Arc.

Cosians: Old ties to Hermetic methodology, but a split that occurred long in the past. With the battles over territory, symbolic natures and such having driven them out, then come to the Hermetics as allies. Most in favor of a truce. Viewed with suspicion by the other houses for political reasons.

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