Ok, here is the situation. I'm running a 3 week game of AM5 at my local club. I've never run it before and the 3 players are new to the game too.
As a result we'll all be feeling our way through the game as learning as we go. I'm thinking that we will start with building a new Spring Covenant. While I own a copy of 5th Ed. I don't have access to it while I'm travelling. But I do have the 4th Ed. PDF. Trouble is the 4th Ed covenant rules look too complex for me, so I think I'll throw them out and offer the PC's 3 choices of a site with attendant advantages and disadvantages.
For what it's worth, as we are London gamers it's going to be set in the Stonehenge Tribunal. Here are some initial site thoughts-
Milton Chantry, Gravesend- nearish to London via the Thames this small manor has access to the great city, access to the Continent but probably a Dominion aura of 1-2 and nosy clergy. But we have 2 Jerbiton so they might still be interested.
Island in Romney Marsh. Remote and mostly undeveloped (though Baldwins Sewer may change that) the covenant has an old Saxon village amongst the marsh land of Romney. Advantages include a Magic aura and rich sources of Animal, Aqaum and Herbam vis, but the place is also afflicted by a demonic miasma which will plague the inhabitants of the covenant forevermore.
Newton Keep (near Dunwich) in East Anglian, a defensible though initially ruined small castle on sea cliff, it is isolated yet a few days travel from the large town of Dunwich and it's Templar Perceptory. Rich in Auram, Aquam and Perdo vis, some think it cursed by a storm spirit or Faerie of the sea.
My own saga is set in around Romney Marsh. We're actually based on the Isle of Oxney so your magi will have some tough competition if you want that one! But seriously, there is actually a Mithraic altar stone (not sure if that's the correct term to be honest), so we've built our saga's own internal mythology around that. It's a nice hook into things.
And if you're happy to play a little after the suggested 1220, much of nearby Winchelsea was swallowed up in a great flood. Our own saga hasn't got there yet, but we know it's going to be a huge supernatural cataclysmic event! We just don't know what it's going to be yet.
So yes, with a site of special Mithraic significance, places called Little Dennis Wood, Great Dennis Wood, Little Job's Cross, and Pookwell Wood, an impending deluge, and the windswept ans sleet-driven marsh... Why go anywhere else?
As for the game itself, if you're only looking at three weeks, I'd take a more traditional tack on the setup; as storyguide, take the initiative and provide the setting and resources that are going to suit the story. I don't think you need to stat out the covenant to be honest (we've been on Romney Marsh for about five (RL) years and we're still operating on the principle that we don't really know what we have until we go looking for it. We could describe our covenant in terms of the hooks and boons, but we've gone down the narrative route first.
So I suggest you pick the location that best suits your story. And I'd given them enough resources that they have something to play with. And then get on with the game.
Probably allow the very heart of the covenant to be outside of the Dominion Aura, its really hurtful otherwise for new players, just to remember the problems that aura causes for useful "daily utility spells" can be a serious chore.
Maybe add something more that shows they´re near the city, like slightly more starting access to books or easier access to grogs, and of course easier access to places of trade for both material to the covenant and potentially for whatever the covenant bases its income on.
One example could be hiring a shipwright, and give him a MuHe item that turns wood into claylike substance for Sun duration. That would allow building boats without joints, bolts etc... Allowing far lighter boats to still be stronger than regular ones, and yet still built in a quarter of the time. Which of course would make other ship builders damned angry most likely. :mrgreen:
Be careful about starting out the demonic miasma too strong, or better yet, have it stronger in one or several directions away from the covenant, so that its "merely" a nuisance at the covenant, but can still be a major danger whenever you want it to become worse... Maybe an Infernal aura that varies its strength apparently (but not really) randomly, and at its most powerful overrides the Magical aura of the covenant.
Marshlands will sometimes contain iron or tin deposits(among other things) that with the right magic item (ReTe perhaps) could be mined much more easily. This would probably be a fairly harmless source of income as well, once set up it shouldnt be any problems unless you want there to be.
Would probably be my pick, but i cant really think of something useful to add...
Yeah, probably something to keep in mind. Classic RPG style is easier to fit into a tighter shedule. 3 weeks is enough for anything though so just about any approach should work. But indeed, very important to make sure there´s enough resources from start or quickly available for trade when you´re doing a shorter game.
3 weeks? That is short. I would suggest you play some introduction and advance 7 years on the first week. How the players will drive those 7 years will define how the game will develop. Play fast and loose on the initial characters and their development, as long as it's close enough to what they could do.
Set up some flavour and let them decide which are boons and hooks. Have them deal with their neighbours to secure missing resources through some 30min micro-adventures.
I feel Ars is more interesting if you use a style different from other RPGs.
It look like I will be doing all the heavy lifting on this one as the players are unlikely to have even read the rules when we start.
That said, I think they will have more ownership if they can choose between sites and build it up rather than me presenting them with a pre-fab covenant.
So, a few things to help me out- what is the impact of being within a dominion aura of 1-2? Doesn't it just give you a small penalty to your spont spells and your lab total? (again 4th Ed PDF is what i have access to in my travelling library). Am I right in thinking that formulaic spells don't get an aura modifier?
What vis sources are most useful for a starting covenant?
Where does being a Jerbiton end and 'interfering in mortal affairs' start? Presumably if Puritan crusaders show up at your gate waving torches, you are Ok to defend yourself by deterring them with a BoAF? Are you equally ok to use ReMe to convince your crusader enemy that there is nothing to see here and you are not the Magi they are looking for? And what if you do that before they show up at your gate?
A dominion aura gives a -3 penalty per level of the aura to all supernatural activities aligned with the magic realm. That includes lab activities, spontaneous spells, formulaic spells and use of supernatural abilities such as Second Sight when they derive from the Magic Realm. It also gives a penalty of -4 per level of aura to activities associated with faerie (if your characters have any faerie derived abilities), and -5 per level of aura to activities associated with the infernal. It's quite nasty.
This varies a bit by tribunal, and I'm afraid I can't remember exactly what Stonehenge's take on it is. In general, though, the key phrase is "and thereby bring ruin on my sodales". Self-defense is fine, as is reasonable defense of your sodales, including teaching humility to those who mistreat Redcaps (this is pretty much a duty rather than a crime). Exactly what constitutes self-defense also varies - a mundane trying to excessively tax a magus might be considered to be attempting to derive him of his magical power (because he couldn't afford lab equipment, or had to spend time raising money rather than learning), and thus a cause for self-defense. Really excessive self-defense might cause you problems if it caused problems later for your sodales, or looked likely to. Beyond that, I think a lot will depend on whether you get caught by either magi or mundanes, how many political enemies you have, and what the likely reaction of mundanes will be if you do get caught.
Actually, they do, as Salutor said. Pretty much the only magic that doesn't is magic items (but the lab total to create them does). A dominion aura will also add its strength to the number of botch dice, if and when player botch, which makes fatiguing spontaneous spells more risky.
If I were you, I would give your covenant in London a very small, very localized magic aura (the result of some very old, residual magic perhaps). Say a level 1 magical aura, limited to the basement of a building, or the like. Maybe not enough for a lab for each magus, but still somewhere a bit safer for ritual and spontaneous spell casting. A level 2 dominion aura pretty much shuts down fatigueless spontaneous spell casting for new magi, and most fatiguing as well except for the Arts they have developed (-6 penalty is nothing to sneer at). It could be fairly limiting, unless the magi are built around it.
Rego or Vim, for the Aegis of the Hearth, is nice. Creo, for healing rituals. And whichever Arts your enchanter has developed.
Pretty much the only two lines that you must not cross are 'bringing harm to your sodales' and 'acting as a court wizard'. Mind-raping an entire city of people so they leave you alone, or just because you feel like it, is not technically a violation of the Code. It's just that experience has shown that such things inevitable get noticed, and then mobs tend to gather screaming "burn the wizards !" at nearby covenants, after they have already roasted yours of course.
If you do let loose with the ReMe, you can expect to see Quaesitor showing up suggesting that you be very careful; and if the mundane start objecting you can expect a reprimand and maybe a small fine at the next Tribunal (assuming you have the political savy to play it right). Once the mundanes start killing Redcaps or waving torches around, you are in big trouble. From both the Order and the mundanes.
Fair enough. That's a good Ars Magica attitude to have.
All powers associated with a given realm are impacted as per the realm interaction table. It doesn't matter whether they are formulaic, spontaneous, ritual, supernatural ability... they're all affected.
The Dominion is a hampering force for the other realms. You're looking at a penalty of 6 on any magical activities within a Dominion of 2. Personally, I say live with it. That's the nature of the game. But I would tend to offset that by being a little more generous with vis than you might have otherwise intended. That way the penalty still applies (you're not artificially messing with it) but your players have the option to expend their resources (and if they have any left at the end of a three-session run, they'll probably wish they had spent it).
If you're likely to set much of your story in and around the Dominion, I'd take a look at the player characters and make sure they have sufficient vis that matches their favoured arts. There's nothing worse than playing a vim specialist with only a pocketful of herbam to your name.
But ideas for sources:
Your covenant is near a marsh, which cedes up long-dead bodies now and then. They can be distilled down into corpus vis.
The covenant location was chosen by agreement with a faerie king who provides patronage in the form of vis each year.
You have a magical goose living within your aegis. Nobody is quite sure how it got there, but its eggs occasionally contain animal vis.
And of course if your covenant has a Verditius magus, he could share his income for certain privilege within the covenant.
If this really is a "starting" covenant, I'd make the vis sources kind of "incidental" rather than sources that they've discovered in the course of being there. In fact, discovering a new source of vis during play is always very welcome.
There's been a tonal shift with the Jerbiton that started (as far as I can make out) at the tail-end of fourth edition. Think of them less as interfering nobles with pretensions of being magi (or interfering magi with pretensions of being nobles), but more of enthusiasts of the wonders of mundane world. When I say "mundane", that's not quite right. But art, architecture, literature, and learning. These are all things that the mundane world does with such grace and elegance that they transcend magic and supernatural realms. But a little magic can always tip them further.
Now, as they have such a deep appreciation, they are de facto closer to mundane society than other magi; they tend to understand it and they tend to be the ones that have most overt contact with it.
There's nothing to prevent a magus or a covenant interacting with nobles or peasants or townsfolk or the Church. They just have to be careful not to overstep the bounds. Verditius magi sell their devices to mundanes as well as other magi, but if they started arming a noble's army with enchanted weapons he's gone too far. There's nothing to stop them giving advice either. Just don't debase yourself or your fellows by being at the noble's beck and call.
As for defence, nobody in their right mind wants a conflict between magi and nobles; nobody wins. So if there is an aggressive noble that could be a threat, it's best to head that off before the threat escalates. If you get to the state where you're peppering the approaching army with fire from the heavens... things have frankly gone too far. That said, if an army did march to the gates of a covenant, they probably deserve a lesson in what happens if you push magi of the Order too far.
Its a short term game with new players... What if half the players end up spending a considerable amount of that time in Twilight sessions?
No, let the Covenant itself have a small Magic aura, having the city all around with a very restricting Dominion aura should be enough.
Agreed. I'm not really that harsh. I just missed the element of the covenant being within the Dominion aura. Yes, the magi should have a magical retreat, a friendly aura that they can return to and cast magic unencumbered by aura penalties.
DEO is not necessary, but it is a handy secondary spell, yep. Same for the DEO equivalent for fae and magical beings.
We consider utility spells to be really useful. Acquiring them with casting tablets saves a lot of resources. Circle/ring spells to create light, bring water to the covenant, destroy waste and carve earth and stone makes building and creating good living conditions MUCH easier. Chamber of spring breezes and something to regulate the temperature in the covenant is also handy. Creo firewood (sun duration) and perdo dust (instant, room) are also good spells for a smooth-running covenant. Most of those are good investing them in magic items. Magic items are good because
make mundanes able to perform those chores
Come quite cheaply at covenant creation
can be bought outside the covenant to a specialist easily. They are low level, so he might do them as a secondary project in a season that he uses to perform some other more important task.
Then you also need a source of mundane income and vis. Books are handy as well, but they can be acquired fairly easily in the hermetic and mundane markets
If you are starting out, I would NOT recommend starting with a Spring covenant. Been there, done that. And struggled mightily. For the novice players and SG it is much easier to set up in a Summer or Autumn covenant, where there are people to cover up if you screw the stuff mightily, and where you will have few responsibilities to start, being the new guys around. The basic stuff will have been already been taken care of (setting up the shop) and you only need to deal with further developments.
Ok, a 3rd Jerbiton has joined the game and it looks like Milton Chantry at Gravesend is the unanimous choice.
So what is a Chantry I asked myself? Oh dear- its a religious institution- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chantry in which priests say Masses for a rich deceased person. Technically its a trust fund, but it needs lands, income and physical altar and possibly a chantry house and chapel for the priests to live in.
Ok, thats potentially interesting- the obsession with the dead, daily hymns and recitations to the deceased fits into the vaguely necromantic name of Gravesend. So I'm thinking ghosts, graveyards, hauntings and dead bodies.
But how do we reconcile a Covenant with a Chantry (and its Chapel level Dominion aura)? And also one that was a hospital in 1189?
First thought - The Magi are the clergy (perhaps one is the noble son of the deceased for who they all pray) and like Father Ted, they are not the most popular or well liked clergy, but they have found a way to balance their holy duties and their magic. Perhaps through Theurgy or a mystery cult which lets them ignore Dominion or mitigate it? I could see them belonging perhaps to an obscure monastic order which is considered borderline heretical, but whose members are both Hermetic and Divine.
2nd thought- the Magi are not clergy, but have strong links with the Church- perhaps they work with an Archpriest or Warden of the Chantry and tend to the sick in the hospital (for Corpus experts) or educate the locals (using their Classical Arts skillz) or deal with ghosts particularly resistant to exorcism. Again how they overcome the Dominion of daily Masses said in the Covenant becomes a sticking point - though a relic or divine exemption related to the 3 wise Magi who attended the birth of Jebus could come into play...
3rd option - Some of the aura interactions get a bit complicated for me, so I could do away with them entirely. Alternatively, we have a minor boon - Blessed Gift- which means you ignore Dominion when casting. Or we could upgun the Gentle Gift- now it means you no longer offend people, but that you dont offend God either with your magical nature...
RoP: The Divine , page 66 , Holy Magic ; The Priory of St Nerius , page 94.
pages 92 , 97 & 100 , Ars Notoria.
Neither is a perfect solution , but Holy Magic allows you to attune to both Divine and Magic Auras.
Each level of Ars Notoria reduces the penalty from a Divine Aura by 03.
Apart from finding a text , you need a score of 04 in Latin , Greek , Hebrew & Chaldean.
I think the first thing to ask is if the player characters are going to be pious ones. If the answer is yes, they could be indeed monks with holy powers, that for someone who hasn´t the supplements, they could be like hermetic magic, but unaffected by dominion aura and that fails (with the punishment that you can´t do magic for a time, or harsher) if it isn´t used in good purpose (that is, an altruistic one).
If the answer is no, they are normal people, then it gets more convoluted but doable!. They would have to pass as monks (with minor orders, for example) and being asked to explore the basement of the chantry, that is haunted . The NPC could be any story hook of the player characters, or a mercere recovering of his wounds... In the adventure they could find as reward a Stone of Verditius (an Artifact that imposes a Magic Aura of size room), and that could be the start of the covenant , with a little persuasion from the Jerbiton they could stay as distant monks or even resident, penitent (or retired) nobles, but at least one of them would have to get Church Lore to explain things a bit. Being impostors add quite a number of adventures