1st Crusade Game: Converting the Prince of Nothing Series to Ars Magica

So, my southern France game is now a once a month affair, so I need a second fascinating campaign concept (to me at least, anyway). A player asked about a crusade game, and I got thinking about doing a Saga starting in the 1st Crusade.

This is a single player + SG game, so lots that we don't need to worry about, while at the same time making sure it goes in a way we're both interested in exploring.

Then I started thinking about one my favorite fantasy series that was heavily based on the 1st Crusade, the Prince of Nothing Series.

For quick reference, the first trilogy of Prince of Nothing series is an epic fantasy grimdark analogue to the first crusade. Competing wizard factions, an evil No-God served by his Unholy Consult trying to destroy the world, and a fascinating deep dive into the crossovers of logic and human psychology. The author has a PhD in Philosophy, and it shows.

While I don't need to literally copy the series in Ars Magica's Mythic Europe, a big part of the book was the grind of the crusade as well as changing it's course from how it would have gone. (So naturally, piles of mundane interference on the sly and becoming ahistorical.)

The PC is a Tytalus with the Gentle Gift who is participating in his master's schemes... He is going under his mundane identity as the heir of a Viscount back in France, while hiding his secret identity as a Magus to the nobility... While also travelling with the Magi on the Crusade and hiding from them that he is a Noble.

(From what I've seen in the Code of Hermes, nothing says a Magus is required to disclose his mundane background.)

Once there, as a Magus, he can help influence the Tribunal to be an appropriately exciting place for House Tytalus to flower anew after the bruising schism war and recent purge in the last century.

I like the idea of the Unholy Consult as a hidden enemy, but I struggle with the idea of an analogous Mythic Europe concept. (In essence, an ancient group of aliens aided by subservient human mages.) I feel like simple Diabolists would be too cliché and boring.

Any thoughts on that, or any other possible ideas to use in a First Crusade Campaign?

Other ideas include the introducting of the much more openly practicing Sahir's as well as Intra-Crusade politics and Crusader-Byzantine intrigues.

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Oh, I liked that book series. I need to re-read it.
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I would actually have made the Unholy Consult the demon-princes, or "ascended" (descended?) diabolists, but I take it you don't want this option. One alternative is to switch them for the Dream Witches. Make them highly-warped witches, perhaps partly pre-Hermetic, which reside in dreams but can possess people or "step out of them" after driving them mad with lack of sleep or somesuch. This will allow to make each quite-unique and have them mostly act as whispers in NPCs ears, and be very hard to track down and confront, but with the ability to manifest and act in the real world as needed.

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Ancient group of aliens screams Unseelie to me.

I'm assuming not with the People's Crusade, considering how that went.

My goodness, the political factions to work with there is amazing. If you really want to dig in, there could be tons with just that.

Heir of a French Viscount - get in good with the emperor and get introduced to some magical knowledge that way? Great chance to get some unusual personal turb members in the city and investigate magical areas perhaps forgotten by the West, but remembered there. Old knowledge to discover....

I believe there are a few Ars ideas set in Constantinople you could use from various books or adventures.

Friends or family members who know people in Jerusalem might pay well in money or knowledge, if your PC can get them out safely during the sack.

Your PC might make (find) the Holy Lance, as part of the plotting.

I see there was a Mythical Constantinople book that I have, but I also see I wasn't a big fan. Your might think differently, of course. Era of time is later. Mythic Constantinople: Shirley, Mark: 9781989028162: Amazon.com: Books

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Totally forgot this book, which I used parts of when we were in Jerusalem for our first game.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/169/Jerusalem-by-Night

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@YR7 and @Jetpack thank you both for the advice. I can see maybe some kind of Dream Witch could be a lackey or working with some kind of powerful Unseelie fae, or perhaps an Old God of Canaans to unleash some kind of fiendish plot. I'll look up Antagonists and Dies Irae maybe for some end game ideas.

I do have a copy of Jeruselam by Night, though I never got around to reading it much, so I'll give it a whirl.

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If you don't mind looking at other games for inspiration, check out this link:

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/12cj_VAGqdYR53rmPtZXWidzyPQcGCtoC?usp=sharing

There are two files there, one for the Gods of the Arabs, before islam, and one for the Canaanite Gods. While they are geared for Scion 1e, they might still be useful with info on those gods.

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@Red-Shadow-Claws thank you for the neat link, I will find ways to use that.

So, right we have started the first session. We started with his graduation ceremony, which involved a strange summoning rite that involved having a epic vision:

(0) The history of the Order is a lie.

(1) There was a 14th house, House Seswatha. The 14th founder was a Levantine Greek, and the survivor of an ancient Akkadian prophetic summoning Tradition in Syria that strived to save the world for upcoming the Apocalypse, predicted to happen around the year 1000.

(2) Seswatha was afflicted with various dreams and visions in his life, that led him to France and then to the Founder's Gathering in Durenmar in 767. He warned the other Founders of the No-God, a being not of this world, that had fallen from the sky into the wastes of the East, and the No-God's plan to destroy the world.

(3) The only Founder to not laugh at, ignore, or politely listen was Tytalus, whom after battling Guorna the Fetid understood the danger. The two houses were strongly allied in the early years of the Order, and caused many setbacks for the No-God and the unholy Consult.

(3) Seswatha was the oldest of the founders, as he was born around the year 400. He bound a powerful sympathetic Jinn into himself and did not age past 30.

(4) While the Devil wants to corrupt humanity and keep them alive in order to have an endless stream of new souls into Hell... The No-God simply wants everyone and everything to die.

(5) The No-God is served by the Unholy-Consult, a mixed group of Magi and Wizards to whom he opens new and unfettered secrets of the Magic of Death. They can become almost perfect impostors of a person, and perfectly destroy memories.

(6) The PC saw through Seswatha's eyes, Diedne's face in the original gathering of 767.

(7) Seswatha argued with Charlemagne and Jerbiton to destroy The Tree at the End of the World in Northern Germany to stop the machinations of the Unholy Consult in corrupting the Northmen.

(8) The No-God and Unholy Consult are most often confused with The Devil and Diabolists, but they are not the same. The Church of Christ and the remnants of the Caliphate are unwittingly the No-God's greatest foe.

(9) The Schism war was truly apocalyptic, and no woman in the world gave birth in the year 1012, and if they were already pregant had a stillbirth. The Unholy Consult tore holes in reality and much was forgotten. Many fallen "Diedne" covenants are actually fallen House Seswatha covenants or unknown and forgotten in the middle east.

(10) The machinations of the No-God continue, and using corrupted agents in House Guernicus and other Hermetics, has destroyed almost all mentions of house Seswatha. Surviving records are in Akkadian, the House's secret language. (Historically not rediscovered until 1767.)

(11) Seswatha lives in his descenants - all masters are learn how to enact a ritual that binds them to Seswatha's memories. Over time as their mind accumulates, they witness scenes from Seswatha's life, and up to his apocalyptic battle with, and defeat by, the No-God in 1012.

(12) Tasgilla was not infected by diabolism. She pushed too far to learn about the No-God, and ended up corrupted. She and her followers who were killed were actually not infernalists, but members of the Unholy-Consult.

(13) Only one of Seswatha's followers survived the first apocalypse. Due to magical similarities, he stole the identity of a slain member of House Tytalus. (The PC's master.) He now tries to mastermind the 1st Crusade against the machinations and stirrings of the No-God in the East after the first apocalypse.

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Time for an update!

Recall that the Tytalus (“Titanoi” aka Seswatha and Summoner) is also posing as his own fake twin brother, the bastard son of a Viscount, leading his father’s forces on the Crusade as a vassal of Robert Curthose of Normandy. So he has an identity "Kaldas of House Tytalus of the Order of Hermes" and another "Aubert Avranches, bastard son of the Viscount of Avranches, vassal of Duke Robert of Normandy."

(1) The PC intervened in the siege of Nicea. Historically, there was a weak tower that the crusaders identified and unsuccessfully assaulted. The PC has skill with Perdo, Rego, and Terram, so spontaneously cast a series of spells to weaken the Tower during the assault. A lucky Finesse roll later, it collapsed in such a way that it turned into a ramp for the crusaders to get on the battlements. Some good rolls later, he led his men to take the gate and open it up for the army.

(2) This means the crusader army sacked Nicea way earlier than in history. Because this city is still largely Christian, casualties and atrocities were minimal. As a result however, some of the initial bad blood between the Byzantines and Crusaders is from the Byzantines towards the Crusaders instead of the other way around. Because of the PC's actions, he received personal accolades and gifts from Emperor Alexios.

(2b) - The PC also looted what he thought was a Mosque (he had promised his men much treasure for leading the supposedly suicidal assault and now had to pay up), but turned out to be a recently founded Order of Solomon House of Wisdom/Covenant. (The clue was the group of earth elemental Jinn guarding it.) A heroic fight later, they were defeated.

Because of the PC's Parma Magica, the Vizier's further attempts spells did not work. They promised to surrender, but during a distraction due to a counter-attack by Nicea's garrison, used Solomnic Travel to escape.

Historically (in my Ars Magic canon) because Nicea was not sacked, the Viziers quietly left Nicea and the Order of Hermes was none the wiser. The OoS now has early warning of the Crusaders, and the double injustice not only looting a Mosque, but a House of Wisdom as well.

(3) The crusaders left Nicea just in time to capture the (historical) spies Kilij Arslan sent into the camp and find out about this attack. The PC intervened and with Emperor Alexios's help (as historically, I understand he discussed some strategy with the crusaders) planned an ambush. It went well, but given the mobile horse archer army of Kilij, (maybe a Point of diverge) he avoided a route and still had a (historical) running battle deep into the night with the crusaders.

(4) The PC has a MuCo spell Eyes of the Eagle. Combined with Second Sight, he can see in the dark. He decided to capture Kilij Arslan with his knightly entourage. A good Perception+Awareness roll boosted by two confidence points later for a total of 24, he identified the enemy Sultan. The PC successful led his entourage behind enemy lines and captured Kilij. Overall, this led the the historical rout that Kilij suffered at Nicea.

(5) The PC, wanting to be Emperor Alexios' good graces, and raise his stature in the Crusader army, brought Kilij Arslan to the emperor. I decided the result was Kilij Arslan had to pay a tribute, and surrender many parts of Northern, Western, Eastern Anatolia, which is more than the Byzantines historically recovered after the first crusade. And a 10 year truce. As I understand it, the Byzantines regularly had truces with the Caliphate and successor states, and that 10 years was a normal enough length for a truce.
Also, the PC received even more treasure from Alexios, and made a strong impression on him.

(6) Because of this, Kilij Arslan did not raze his the land and poison all the wells and other possible water sources along the crusader route south. So, on the trek through Anatolia, the crusaders did not suffer the historical water supply issues and loss of life and importantly, horses. The PC also has a grog who can Dowse, and summoned a Water Elemental to help find water sources. This also means that:

(7) There was no battle of Dorylaeum. However, the desert of Dorylaeum had an Infernal Aura of 5, inflicted by some ancient battle with the No-God. Nightmares were plenty, bones rose out of the earth, soldiers woke up dead, children in the civilians fell sickly and died.

(8) The PC, using his reputation for storming Nicea and capturing Kilij Arslan, is recruiting amongst the free knights and soldiers in the Crusade. (Historically they there were some of these, but the number is unclear. I’m estimating this number at about 5 to 10%. The PC also made a point of befriending Robert in earlier sessions, and is now befriending Bohemond. (The Societates Agency rules work similarly well for befriending powerful people too.) His plan is to convince them to split the (hopefully a much larger surviving army after Antioch), with one group going from Aleppo to Damascus, and the other following the traditional route.

(9) While Kilij Arslan himself had a truce with Emperor Alexios, this does not mean the Danishmend did. Kilij still made a secret deal with them, similar to history. However, the Danishmen did have to attack without his surviving forces, as he had to observe the truce.

(10) The attack happens at Caeserea instead. I decided that the battle would largely go similarly to Doryleam. The PC is Robert of Normandy's vassal, so was in the vanguard with Bohemand and Robert's forces. The PC also spotted the Danishmend's scouts, and sent a summoned spirit to kill them all. So similar to history, the Danishmend thought the Vanguard was the entire army. They launched a surprise assault from the northern mountains/forest. Things got hairy, the PC uses a LOT of vis to (barely) deflect the initial surprise attack by the Danishmend horse archers. While Robert and Bohemand rallied the troops, he used his (magic animal companion) horse to get help supernaturally faster than leaving it to mundane horses.

At this point I should note the OoH “embassy” travelling with the Crusaders. They are largely posing as an obscure order of monks for those not in the know. For those who do know, they are largely staying out of the way, in the Rearguard. The PC has spent a fair amount of time as a Magus, and avoiding trouble with the lone Quaesitor policing the Hermetic Crusaders. Due to random generation, the crusaders are ~60% house Tytalus, ~30% Flambeau and 10% other Houses. In my Ars Magica canon, the reason they historically did not get more involved is that the Tytali spent most of the time scheming and fighting over who was in charge of whom rather than fighting any battles for the crusaders. (That and secret clashes with the Order of Solomon at some point.)

The random generation also gave four Tytali strange Russian/Norse names, whom I’ve ruled are recent Tytali converts to the Order from the Novgorod tribunal. They speak poor Latin, and do not even have a score of 1 in Order of Hermes Lore or the Code of Hermes. I decided their magic specialty was turning into Giants and using oversized enchanted weapons to cause death and destruction to their enemies. This is important because the PC decided to befriend this group and invite them to travel with “his noble lord brother” in the Vanguard. (Not historical Ars Magica canon! In my historical canon, they died fighting powerful Jinn near Antioch.)

(11) Back to the battle Caesera, the Vanguard moved near the marshy river (similar to Dorylaeum in history) to the south and the Danishmend horse archers couldn’t engage them directly. The situation appeared dire for the vanguard for the three (instead of five) hours it took for reinforcements to come. The 4 Russian Tytali around the point reinforcements came, decided to wade into the fight. They turned into ~40’ tall giants and frightened the Danishmend army, just as the mounted forces led by Godfrey and Raymond decided to charge. I’ve houseruled that giants of that size are fairly effective against mass combat units and a single swipe of their greatswords was like a scythe through wheat.

The result was a massive slaughter and rout of the Danishmend forces. The next session will be dealing with both the Hermetic and Crusader reactions.

Any thoughts on the changes so far are very welcome!

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This is fabulous! One of the great things about ArM, from the point of view of a medieval historian, is the opportunity to play with the what-ifs of history that one would never be able to explore in an academic work.

Thus I really like the way that you're exploring the history in detail while also considering the impacts that the involvement of magi and their ilk would likely have on the events. You've clearly also been doing detailed reading on the period, and thus you're really bringing the period to life. So cool. :slight_smile:

I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next!

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