A new Scandinavia Saga - Help needed

Hi to all fellow members,

I have just started a new campaign in the snowy land of Scandinavian very close to the Novgorord Tribunal which is our main Tribunal. Our young Magi live in a fishing village overlooking the Baltic Sea. Now I am exposing my first two problems hoping in your help!

  1. I am not aware of the major medieval techniques of construction and I cannot figure how Magi can build and expand their Covenant. For example timber is a very available resource but I suppose the same cannot be said for stone. So is a typical fisherman/Covenfolk able to extract the stone and where can he extract? In Mythic Pound how many pounds could cost the entire work of extraction, transport and construction? And again, there is a core AM book that explains the time required to construct a building? From an historical point of view there is the possibility that some neighbor bother himself seeing his "magical neighbor" build a lot of stone construction like towers, walls and so on? If the Magi do not own the land they live on, have they to ask the permission to build to the right noble owner?

  2. some questions about Survival Skill and obstacles like cold and all others related hazards. No player in completing the wizard's sheet has given special attention to this Skill and all players have a score not exceeding 2 (!!!) Now with such a low score are they able to make long travel in snowy land, camping or hunt for food and what dangers may they face (and with wich ease factor?)

I hope I was able to describe all my requests and I apologize if in a bad English that I have to study and practice more :frowning:

Uhm, lots of questions.

First of all, extracting stone and transporting it to the construction site is both a) non-trivial (you need someone skilled in it, who can then obviously train others) b) generally a lot of work even under the best circumstances (nice cave right where you want to build). That's the reason why in the middle ages stone (from older, dilapidated buildings) got recycled a lot, and why a lot of stuff was built mostly in wood -- even defensive stuff. Also, note that in general building in stone is trickier (even though any largish building is very tricky to build), because a large stone construction weighs so much that you really need to lay the foundations properly or the ground will give way under your newly built construction (are you familiar with the Tower of Pisa?).

Worse circumstances can multiply the cost easily by an order of magnitude, and of course it's one thing to build a tower, and another to build a large castle. So ... there's no precise, or even approximate answer to your question. But to toss some numbers around, we know that the king of England spent about 80000 pounds to build 10 Welsh castles at the end of the 13th century. These pounds are reasonable approximations for Mythic Pounds (e.g. a foot soldier's pay would be about 3 pounds/year, an unskilled laborer's half that). So: as a very rough approximation it takes several thousand Mythic Pounds to build a castle.

The time required to build a castle is typically measured in years, sometimes in decades. Building a castle in less than a year is technically possible, but requires logistics almost unheard of in the middle ages.

Of course, magic can make it all very easy :slight_smile:

Alas, if you build a castle, every political power within a few days' travel will take note. It's not a possibility. It's a certainty.
And if you build overnight through magic, it's way worse :slight_smile:
In Ars Magica, having your Covenant control a Castle is a Major Hook (that you can find in the book Covenants). That's like a Story Flaw, because the castle will generate stories from your worried neighbours, unless it's magically hidden or in such a remote location nobody knows or cares.

Building a castle, even a simple one (anything larger than a tower) means that you can put soldiers there that can raid the countryside with relative impunity and then retreat to the safety of the castle. In fact, it was not infrequent for a political power to occasionally decide that there were too many castles within its interior, and that they should all be "wasted" (i.e. made unusable for defensive purposes), even if they were not "hostile". The Republic of Venice, for example, had virtually no castles within its "core territories" because this was a standard policy.

In general, even you were a loyal vassal of your liege, you had to ask permission if you wanted to fortify a place. These permissions were often extremely specific about what could and could not be built.

Well, it depends on where you are going. On the shores of the Baltic, for example, the land is not that hostile. If you don't travel in winter etc. etc.
I'd say that a few people with Survival 2 are going to be enough. This is particularly true if there are magi around.
Of course, finding enough food to feed an entire Covenant in the making -- even just two dozen people -- by foraging alone is not going to be feasible with such a low Survival score. Again, unless appropriate magic is used. With appropriate magic it can all get relatively easy.
As an aside, note that it makes a lot of sense for magi not to have a high Survival score. The magi should probably have made sure to recruit a few expert guides (grogs, maybe the occasional companion) with high Survival scores.

Just what types of dangers you can get depends entirely on the stories you want to tell.
In general, mundane animals will not present a challenge to largish groups of reasonably well organized people (a dozen or more), and magic can easily keep them at bay. Though if you are not careful, there could be losses of equipment, pack beasts, and even of the occasional grog. Supernatural creatures are an entirely different story, though.
Similarly, the elements are not going to be a big deal, unless you are travelling in winter, or you are really far, far up in the Mythic North, and/or you are facing supernatural challenges (e.g. a terribile spirit of the icy winds) of which there are plenty.
Humans are probably the biggest threat, but again, it really depends on the stories you want to tell whether you find hospitable woodsmen, bloodthirsty savages, or dangerous nobles.

Thinking around your problem, rather than answering your questions:

1a. Build from wood.

1b. Hire another mage to cast a stone building spell, like Conjuring the Mystic Tower.

  1. This sort of thing is what grogs and companions are for - keeping the magical, but often otherwise inept wizards alive.
  1. Obviously, it depends on the mages ability, but if they wish to remain "relatively" discreet, they should build out of wood. Then, they can use various type of spell to make it resistant to various threat. A simple CrIg of relatively low magnitude can keep an apparently tiny built house warm, without fire. A ReIg can make it immune to fire (very frequent in a covenant library). MuHe(Te) can make the wall as resistant as stone, etc.
    All this can be achieve through minor magical items with range of touch (+1), area of structure (+3) and a permanent effect (2 uses/day, env. trigger).
    Those effects are not particularly original, so even the mages are unlikely to have the labtot to invent them in one season, securing labtext should be relatively easy.
    It will cost a few pawns of virtus, but on the other hand, it is still cheaper than paying for a ritual like Conjuring the Mystic Tower, and it is less likely to attract unwanted attention before they are well settled and ready to defend themselves.

  2. Unless you planned to run a campaign with few/no companion and grogs, as TimOB mentionned, it is very common for mages to be ignorant about Survival skills. After all, most of them spent the past 15 years in a dusty tower where the danger was coming from alchemical compounds, uncontrolled magical effects and demanding master. If you planned a Saga where the mage have only a few servants, either you give them a bit more initial XPs for mundane skills or (my favorite solution), you make them clearly aware of their weakness and that they should plan their action accordingly and not start with a three months trecks in the wilderness in winter. Then either they hired somebody competent, and one of them will dedicate several seasons to bring his survival skill to 4-5.
    Magic can make survival easier, however, if you have no clue of what you need, magic will be of little help (spell for orientation, tracking, building a shelter, foraging/hunting - Ball of Abysmal Flame is not a good hunting spell, you want some meat left "uncharcoaled" :smiley: ).

You have to decide what kinds of stories you want to tell, and decide on the answers to facilitate that. If you want to tell stories about the minute details of setting up and running a covenant in the far north, which seems to be what you're aiming for from your post, then you should definitely stress the mundane dice roll and difficulties.

Survival 2 should be enough to manage travel in most cases (except maybe in the heart of winter), but shouldn't be enough to allow the characters to effectively hunt or forage. Decide how much food the characters can get based on their skill, and see if that's enough to feed the covenant. Generally speaking, foraging and hunting are not directly enough be can be with trade; so decide how the covenant trades too, and how that works. Overall, I would aim for about 80% of the men to be busy foraging or hunting, 10% doing crafts and travel and trading, and 10% being the magi or other wealthy individuals; and this assumes all these hunters and traders etc. are skilled in their work. The covenant should also suffer occasional losses (a grog falls to a monster, a trading mission is robbed...).

In terms of Survival, consider also the winters. Harsh winters will mean that there is basically no input of new food or goods, so they would be living off stocks; and off stocks of wood too, to keep from freezing.

Building anything bigger or more complex than a tent-like structure should require skilled labor, and perhaps an architect/engineer to oversee the work, and should take months to years (longer for castles and other extravegant works). Building any kind of castle would definitely draw the attention of worried-nobles. If you don't own the land, nobles will also come in angry that you've settled their lands - but they'd be happy to settle on getting taxes and rights (e.g. - you have to do the milling at their mill; you have no right to hunt in X forest; you will bring capital offences to their court; etc.) over your settlement.

All of this can, and should, be made easier by magic. But at the basic level, without magic to assist them, establishing a settlement in the far north can be very difficult, especially if they have no support from some wealthy home-base.

Now, personally I find all of this quite unappealing. If you want to play through something like this - good, go for it. Just remember you don't have to. You can wave away these details and focus on the stories you want to play through. This can be done by having skilled mundanes take care of all this stuff in the background, or by having pre-made magic tricks to solve things (a spell to build a house, for example), and most importantly - by just not demanding things be so realistic. Perhaps the few grogs you have can hunt and forage for food enough to feed the covenant, and that's that; you don't need to worry about how the covenant feeds itself if you don't want to. You don't need to think about the cleaning staff of the covenant or how the women spend their days looking over the households and doing minor crafts, or so on. Just ignore what doesn't work for you, and focus instead on playing through the stories you want.

In case that you do not wish to bother up front with researching medieval Norse technology (like sciencenordic.com/viking-blacksm ... -his-tools and so on), but the culture appeals to you: just have one of the main characters of your campaign related to a minor Norse noble and invited to live with his people, with the other characters joining.
Then you can concentrate on topics more to your liking, and maybe introduce some local technology piecemeal as it fits you.


Good on you, congratulations!
Now, could you be a little more specific about where? Because the local resources available depend on where you are (and when).

Sounds a lot like where I grew up. I hope you like smoked fish.

Again, more specifically, when and where are you? In Denmark, stone is much harder to come by than in Sweden or Norway.
In general though, it's not so much the availability of stone that's the limit. Stone is much harder to work (especially when it's cold) and thus much more expensive. When wood is so readily available, more building will be made of wood.
Even more, stone isn't actually very good at keeping heat in the building, and while keeping the heat out during summer is a fairly major parameter in the south of europe (summers are hot), retaining heat is very important in scandinavia (where winters are very cold). Wood does a better job of this than stone, or even brick.
Now, I'd like to draw your attention to Hammershus. Specifically these images: , and .
Notice the shift of colour a few floors up? This is because it was build in more than one go, and more than one material. The lower parts were build in stone (with mortar, obviously), while the upper portions are build with (large-ish) bricks, meaning fired clay. The second part was done just a bit after 1220 IIRC, and the technique should be available at that time. The links provided by One Shot are fine, but more appropriate about 200 years earlier, during the actual viking age. Though the further north you go, the longer the building style in the first like was used.

Please understand that with a little hermetic magic, local building technology isn't really a big deal - it's easy to turn stone soft as clay and use it to build, then let it turn back into rock as the sun goes down. But the properties of the material matters, and one material property you want, is the ability to retain heat.

That's what grogs are for anyway, isn't it.

Not to worry, I've seen worse :wink:

I know why I provided the link to a building style that can be used everywhere in Scandinavia around 1220 AD, instead of pictures of the potential main castle and stronghold of the king of Denmark at that time, while it didn't belong to the bishops of Lund.
Conspicuous buildings like the Hammershus were made to broadcast wealth and power of its builder for hundreds of miles - which a newly founded covenant better doesn't.


I didn't know I was criticizing you or your links in any way?

Perhaps I was unclear: I posted pictures from Hammershus specifically to show the two different materials used, in particular to show the use of brick/fired clay in scandinavia in the relevant time periode.

So too does the borgund stave church in the link on medieval architecture. And who knows, perhaps their particular covenant does want to signal wealth and power. That's called 'intimidation'.

Metodicus: If you'd like a lower profile, I might want to draw your attention to the Viking Longhouses or icelandic turfhouses (both refered to in One Shot's first link). I think the longhouse was going out of fashion in the 1200's, but they could certainly still be found and build. They retain heat beautifully. You'd need magic to move the dirt during winter though.
But again I'd like to ask where, because there are huge diferences between eg Denmark and Finland at the time.

Hmmm. The borgund stave church (see scandinaviacityguide.com/wp-cont ... 3_2200.jpg ) can barely take up one standard lab, and is humbly put into a valley: it did and does impress with its workmanship, not with material, size or position.

But anyway, it is a most unlikely covenant building indeed. :wink:



Note that if you have enough stone, heat is retained just fine. This won't help on the topmost story, with 3ft walls, but will keep the temperature the same all year round down below, where the walls might be 20ft thick.

Magi can make this happen, no problem.

Even in Denmark, magi can get all the stone they need if they have a Terram specialist. Real stone can be found wherever there is bedrock. Magi can use Re to quarry and transport pieces of this to wherever they want. Rammed earth structures are also actually very strong, the technology is not anachronistic, and ReTe is sufficient for this purpose. Hardening mud into brick is also quite straightforward for magi; there is more than one way to skin this cat. But a true Roman magus will settle for nothing less than concrete! Terram comes in quite handy here too, and Re is all you need, plus reasonable raw materials. Even if he starts with sand or dirt, a magus can use ReTe or CrIg to make his own stone or glass. A 10ft thick block of glass is not fragile! Or make some lava, have it ooze into the shape you want, then let it cool (or stop the spell).



Regarding survival skills: the magi can get around the cold by using the Cr Ig guideline "make an item warm to the touch", or higher levels to cook with or create a magic campfire. They can also use magic for shelter. Therefore, the main thing they need to do is bring enough food with them and find some water.
For example, The wizard's bedwarmer CrIg 5 heats an object at touch tange to be warm to the touch, lasts until sunrise or sunset (so will keep you warm until you need to get out of bed) Base 2, +1 touch + 2 sun duration. Can also be used on a cloak to keep it warm all day.
The ephemeral hut CrHe 20 creates a single room shack out of living wood which disappears at sunrise or sunset. Base 3 (create wood in an unnatural shape) +1 touch +2 room target +2 sun duration.

Difficulties for finding food and making shelter are probably 6 in the spring or summer, 6 or 9 in autumn, and 9 or 12 in winter. Bring grogs or companions with you when the weather's bad. Stay in a port town during winter.

If I may interject, these figures are for what Covenants calls Superior Engineering. Harlech and similar concentric castles are legendary feats of stonework. A tower keep on a hill is a matter of a few hundred pounds, if that - a motte-and-bailey or ringwork is less than that.

As has been said, of course: if the covenant has a Terram specialist, then the decision between a concentric super-castle and a more modest one is a matter of the magi's ego and how concerned they are about threatening their neighbors.

Just a side note: "Superior Engineering" is stuff that is so technologically advanced for 1220 that, although non-magical, it appears to be.
The majority of the 10 castles built in Wales by Edward I are not that crazy. In particular, the most expensive (Caernarvon, which cost 25000 pounds) is not. Though they certainly qualify for the Curtain Walls and Mural Towers Boon -- so definitely more "upscale" than a motte-and-bailey or ringwork.

Then again, the OP talked about multiple towers, so he probably did not have such a motte-and-bailey or ringwork in mind, which I do agree would cost less than a thousand pounds in most cases.


Note that setting a 'cost' to something possible doesn't necessarily make a particular instance of it possible, at any cost.

A 1000# castle? Not so possible in the middle of the desert where everything needs to be imported, including the craftsmen, laborers and water for same.

Note also that castles are pretty suckful places to live. Forget about cramming multiple 500 square foot labs in a normal castle! A palace, sure. (My recent trip to Spain was rather educational in that respect. Even in older palaces, rooms are surprisingly small. When I saw season 1 of Marco Polo, I was surprised how small Kublai's throne room was. I was no longer surprised for season 2. Things start to change in 14C, and everything just gets bigger and bigger. By early 16C, palaces start to become the massive monstrosities we all expect.)

Of course, magi can build anything they like.



It just becomes a 100000£ castle :slight_smile:

It becomes an impossible castle, without magic.

Impractical to the point that no sane king would want to do it? Yes.
Impossible? By no means.