Advice for a first time GM running a Rhine Tribunal game

Ave, sodales!

I'm starting a campaign set in the Rhine Tribunal. It's pretty much the standard deal, I guess. You know, with Murion pushing the PCs towards setting up a covenant of their own. To be more precise, the PCs have agreed to join this project before the campaign starts. We have 5 magi, I think.

  1. A Jewish Criamon. He is intent on integrating Jewish mysticism to hermetic magic and is dreaming about creating a golem. I'm not necessarily going to follow Realms of Power: Divine on divine magic and what not. At this point I'm thinking about setting up a few avenues of research. The most promising one to my mind is to craft a new Criamon path. As we are starting the game in the year 1210, we can't really ignore the crusades or blood libels either. He is also 5-10 hermetic years older than the rest and the nominal leader of the expedition. He belongs to the Apple Gild.

  2. A younger magi who was born and raised in a covenant. He was apprenticed to a Tytalan master, but snatched by a politically minded follower of Bonisagus. Pre +5 I think, but not gently gifted. His magic is centered on illusions which seem pretty low powered even though he has a major magical focus. This chap is going to see a lot of play dealing with hermetic politics.

  3. A dwarf-blooded Verditius who is interested in building magical structures. The player is planning on creating a companion knight next and intends to create magical arms and armor for him for his services. He is a member of Elder Gild.

  4. The fourth player is thinking about creating a magus who is actually useful in combat. ; - )

  5. The fifth PC is a mystery.

Right now I'm thinking that the magi are going to be granted an extended stay of seven years in Durenmar while building their own covenant. This whole thing is a ploy by Murion to win some prestige and curtail the expansion of Fengheld. The first character is non-threathening and a useful front, but the second character is the one Murion hopes to use to further her agenda. The campaign is going to involve preparations, dealing with the other covenants and trying to get their blessing, trying to find a suitable site and dealing with the challenges rising from it, and later, dealing with the challenges arising from interaction with the other realms and other states

I'm thinking on the lines of one adventure per year. Not all mages will be joining the adventures, but we won't have all the companions with us in the beginning either. Rather, I'm going to present promising candidates in play.

All of us are Finns with university backgrounds. I'm studying medicine and the we have an English major, a cultural anthropology major and three with master's degrees in German philology, Finnish literature and Economics respectively. The lot of us are history buffs, which is nice. My RPG background involves a lot of Glorantha, Forge/indie games, and, in the recent years, some serious OSR D&D. I haven't really ran a campaign that is as focused as this in exploring history as this. This is some hardcore simulationist shit right here! :wink: Right now I'm thinking that I'm going to rely on my Forge-trained narrativistic instincts to generate stuff for the adventures while trying to balance that out with picking up some things I want to illustrate about the Order of Hermes, the time period, or something in each session.

I do have to say, that I'm finding this time period pretty interesting. I've listened a lecture series on Jewish mysticism to prepare myself, but haven't had the time to go bonkers with history books yet. I'm not sure that I'm going to find it. I've also found Ars Magica podcasts useful.

I don't think we are going to go for the rotating GM, but we are definetly going to be mixing mages, companios, and grogs.

Anyway, do you guys and gals have any good advice for us?

Project Redcap has a concise summary of the Rhine Tribunal, which helps to prevent oversights and save time: ... e_Tribunal .

Your Jewish Criamon might benefit from some of the literature in the following article - especially as some in your campaign can read German well: .


I currently play a saga in the Rhine Tribunal, the most succesful attempt yet of the ones tried. GotF is my favorite Tribunal book, the Rhine Tribunal has more or sell everything I find interesting for a saga. There is the ancient magic, faeries, deep dark forests, forbidding ountains - the sense of mystery and the history of the Order and its traditions. There is the interaction with mundanes: niblemen, clergy, towns and merchants - in an area of immense growth. And there is Hermetic politics. I dislike isolated sagas where there is little interaction with anything more than one-off stories. I like continuity.

I've played ArM for quite a whiel now, and I was tiring of Spring sagas with covenant building. But I was convinces by my troupe that a saga centered on the political aspects of building a covenant in the Rhine Tribunal could be different, and would have lots of interaction with the rest of the covenants and magi. And this turned out to be true.

GotF has plenty of saga ideas and major plotlines and as much as I wanted to I have not integrated them all. Although some might pop up later.

With take-off point in the Rhine Gorge Saga from the book we started out with a bunch of recently Gauntleted magi answering Murions request to re-settle the previously Hermetic free zone of the Rhine Gorge. Although we've expanded the area to cover a much longer stretch of the Rhine as well as the Ruhr valley. We have the Order of Odin and the Nordic lands as a sort of overall plotline plus we use the Crintera Schism as a backdrop (no player magi are of Bjornaer so no or little direct activities). I decided against the Lotharingian Tribunal, even though we have an active Apfel gild magus filius of Daria la Gris of far.

First order of business was Tribunal of 1221 where the first steps in diplomatic circles were made. Next was scouting for locations; I prepared 3 different interesting locales to let the rest of the troupe pick from. I made it difficult enough to choose so they ended up with one place with another as secret chapter house-ish location. Time up until Tribunal of 1227 (one year early due to Grand Tribunal of 1228) was spent forging diplomatic agreements to ensure support for officially founding the covenant.

Initially as we decided on a Spring saga I had deliberatly not used the Rhine covenant Collem Leonis from Through the Aegis, after all it is Second Spring and makes for a different saga. But I still used a location close to Dortmund for this saga because I find this area interesting and I have reserached it somewhat.
But a player thought it would be fun to actually implement Collem leonis into the saga, and so we did. Seems to work fine.

To make for a different Spring Saga I had Durenmar contributa a load of lab texts of common spells to start us out. I also allowed the locations to have vis sources in type and amount to allow for casting an Aegis as well as saving up for Longevity. We have a fairly easy living as the chosen location has ok income with little work from mundanes and companions, with potential for expansion if the magi bother. All in all so we won't need to spend all our time the first years scrape a meagre living, but can concentrate on politics.
Once accepted as covenant in 1227 we recieved gifts from the otehr covenants, based on their attitude and generosity, to boost our library - which isn't still all that.

Things to remember in a Rhine saga are:

  • Gilds. Magi can ally themselves or find enmity based on covenats as well as Houses, but now also based on Gilds and political goals. Gild politica more or less balance themselves out, however the book does suggest to tweak the power of one gild over another to make for different kinds of sagas. My point is: Don't let it become too static! Allow for things to happen, big things even. Don't enforce it too harshly that there are never any Wizard's Wars. I find that boring, loosen it up a bit.
  • Rank. Analyse and agree how you want the Rank of magi to affect things and how player magi can achieve the rank of Master. Not everyone wants this, but if you train an apprentice before you are Master your filius is stigmatized. In our saga we ruled that you must work on achieving a Reputation level 3. You start out doing a single great thing, which needs to be noticed and recogniced by a sufficiently large group of magi, and you start out with a Rep of 1 for this thing. The player needs to decide what they want to be recognized for and agree with the Troupe hot to achieve this. It can be reputation for a single Art, for a type of magicm or otherwise magically-related activity. Starting the Rep can be quite hard, and requires not only raw power and time but also interaction with other magi and activekly seeking them out. Which is a point for our saga. Once started the Rep gains 1 exp for each action taken from a fairly long, non-exhastive and loose list. Things like writing a book, inventing a spell, visiting another covenant, working on projects with other magi, participating in Tribunal/March/Wizard's War/tournament, duelling, fighting a monster etc. provided knowledge of this is spread, publishing the book or lab text etc. Reaching Rep 3 just means you are ready, we still enforce that you need to convince 3 Masters to support your claim.
  • And most likely something else as well. This is all I can think of now.


Two bits of advice about the Jewish stuff.

The easy one first: Creating a golem is traditionally not at all about creating an unstoppable fighting machine. It is also not especially difficult, once you know how, but the sort of thing you can do every week to create that perfect animal for that special Sabbath meal. Works nicely with a Criamon path, I think; an initiate would think hard and long before doing anything practical with this.

The more difficult one: When bringing Jewish stuff into a game, it is very easy to go straight for the stereotypes, especially for the medieval period. It might be helpful to consider our modern era as little different from medieval era when it comes to all things Jewish. Then and now, Jews are not necessarily more religious than Christians are religious, within their time and place. Then and now, European antisemitism and oppression isn't "all pogrom all the time" but a continual cultural undercurrent that ebbs, flows and sometimes erupts, with well-meaning people expressing condemning excesses while providing the intellectual underpinnings for the next round. Then and now, Jews in Europe are both very Jewish and very European. I'm not saying that this perspective is true (I'm also not saying it's false!), only that it is useful for allowing the stereotypes while also allowing the far wider range of realistic possibility.



In one ArM game one of our players, a Jewish man, had great fun playing stereotypes to the hilt for his own companion, but yes, it's a problematic issue.

I've enjoyed the Rhine Tribunal, and here are my suggestions:

  • The historical Holy Roman Empire throughout the 13th century had some interesting stuff going on that can be, more or less, part of your campaign. I made a mildly inaccurate and deeply incomplete, but otherwise detailed timeline from 1220-1230. There are armies tramping back and forth (starting in 1210 means that your players are bystanders to the end of Otto IV's reign), assassinations, witch hunts, etc. I like in my Rhine Tribunal campaign to keep the covenant abreast of what's happening with the Holy Roman Emperor (and his opposition) so that, even the remove that magi have from the mundane, they can feel the world swirling and shifting around them as alliances are broken and reformed. I like to have my covenant deal with a shift in borders underneath them or being in the path of an army or otherwise tempted to interfere with the mundane for the covenant's benefit at least once in the saga.
  • If you want to look up Caesarius of Heisterbach, his work includes a number of "recorded" supernatural incidents which you can sprinkle into your campaign for authentic flavor. There are also the witch hunts of Konrad of Marburg, which you can take as "real" or as misguided (or a little of both).
  • The Jewish Criamon is, as others have noted, an interesting thing. I'm Jewish, and I'd have to do some work coming up with what I'd consider a satisfying merge of Jewish mysticism and Criamon paths; I wish you the best in your research. I think the biggest question, for the character as well as the player, is whether Hermetic House or religion is the most dominant aspect. Which, in a conflict between Jewish Law and the Criamon way, bends first? I think that question may help guide the powers and nature of the character.
  • Separately on Judaism, for a magus I think being Jewish is less an issue for the magus to confront than it would be for a mundane. Magi are separate from mundane society, and among other magi, diversity of religious belief is tolerated in a way Europe will not experience for centuries; avowed pagans and Christians with heretical beliefs are a plurality of all magi. In contact with mundanes, the Criamon's status as a wizard for good or ill will often be more important than religion. If the magus is close to his old community (a good way to get in trouble with the Code of Hermes), then he could be embroiled in their politics and potential issues.
  • Due to the Rhine corruption and many other issues, playing Hermetic politics as a spring covenant will often be an exercise in figuring out the winning side to pick, enduring an inevitable bad ruling, or otherwise being ruled by the Tribunal more than ruling it. I like to fill my tribunals with lots of petty third-party squabbles to give the player magi an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with one faction or another without having the covenant's interest directly on the line.
  • Also, given both the politics and the potential for collision with the mundane, I like to sketch out who the most notable Quaesitores in the Tribunal are who might be interested in what the covenant does, and how likely they will be helpful or antagonistic.
  • For your builder magus, I would want to know where he's going to source his stone and metal; will there be a quarry or mine on the covenant grounds, or do they need to be bought somewhere else? Getting raw materials can sometimes be an adventure in itself. It could be that a Lorelai has stopped up river traffic, or that a mundane lord now doesn't want his stone sold to demon-worshipping wizards.
  • I'm also a huge nerd about weather and pre-plan climate so good and bad harvests are already part of the saga. For example, history includes flooding and famine in Thuringia in 1226 (also plague, but that's a separate challenge) -- depending on the location of your covenant, this can have a greater or lesser effect, such as, while all the other plans and adventures are wending their way to fruition, the grogs and covenant administrator now have to deal with a quadrupling of food prices.
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Stereotypes are no problem at all if everyone's having fun! But the alternatives can be interesting too.



Ok. We made the rest of the characters.

  1. The fourth mage is a Ex Miscellanea maga from the lineage of Pralix. Her magic is focused in Vim and Ignem. She is pretty good at combat magics and dispelling. The player hopes to explore hedge magic traditions, but also wants to keep her combat magics strong, because all the other maga are such wimps! :slight_smile: This character also joined the gild for the harmonious betterment of all mages...

  2. The last player took the Jerbiton template from the book and customized it. I didn't have as much time with him as I would have liked, because he had an another engagement and I felt that the fourth player needed more help. Anyway, the players came up with a good point. It's not necessarily the smartest move to leave all the intrigue to the self-professed master of cunning and intrigue. So this Gentle Gifted Jerbiton will fit in with the group quite well.

Already I'm seeing potential schism relating to the upcoming decision of covenant placement. :slight_smile:

I'm glad to hear about your saga! Your thoughts pretty much seem to mirror mine. There certainly is much to exlore.

This is pretty much my order of business too. We have one adventure template in diplomatic missions to secure the support of one magus from each covenant (with the general success of the mission reflecting the gifts that the covenant is going to give). The second template is in scouting the locations, choosing the location, securing the location, and then making the location work. Then there are the stories of the PCs too.

How did this resolve in play in your campaign? That is, what did your players do and what did your characters do?

These things are certainly on my mind, but this was an excellent reminder.

Beginning at Tribunal 1221 we initiated diplomatic relations with several covenants where the individual magi had an opening via House or Gild. Or simply created one. Many of the we spoke to had a hard tie committing to support us until we had a location.
Hooks to the 3 locations were created through characters. A Companion who was an older noblewoman in the know about the Order had some ideas. Her son was just apprenticed to a magus at Durenmar and she wanted to be close to the Order but not too physically close. And she wanted to try and steer the young magi settling towards proper behavior. She knew of 2 potential sites. A PC magus had the third.
First site was a fortress where a tributary entered the river Ruhr, with rights to tax river traffic, magic aura in the basement and manned by the bastard son of a minor nobleman and his ruffians. Plus hints of dark deeds among the men and in the locale. But Infernal or dark Faerie? The site took some inspiration from Pfalz Island in the Rhine Gorge Saga chapter.
Characters investigated the site. The noblewoman asked for hospitality on a journey and learned much by speaking with the bastard noble son. Grogs snooped around and spoke with the ruffian soldiers and servants. They saved a mistreated servant girl who was Gifted and with minor witch powers. The learned a bit about strange local events and places. The magus with Shape changer
Snuck in and looked at supernatural matters. The Gifted servant was later used as a bargaining chip by one of the other magi when she was given to a Durenmar magus.

Second site was an isolated village in the hills, known for the strange inhabitants and for minor iron export. Less known for superb smith craft. Magi and Grogs visited and learned the villagers had a higher than normal frequency of both the Gift, Magical Air and Unaffected by the Gift as well as highly skilled craftsmen working with metal, stone and clay. Magic aura trumping the Los Dominion from ghe small church which had a quiet and reasonable priest, readily teaching his parishioners Latin and literacy. The area had potentially rich natural resources which were not yet used. Villagers yearned for freedom and believed the local Count would be open to granting them a town charter and receive taxes from a settlement suddenly motivated to growing rather than to try and manage misfits believed to be lazy.

Third site was a hint to a Tremere magus of Apfel Gild and member of abyssal bearer vexillation looking for lost Tremere magi. Where better than a place he deduced had been a rally point for the magi Diedne of Oakdell during the Schism? It turned out the sitem although very hidden still held people. Descendants of Oakdells covenfolk sent ahead to prepare a hideout for magi who never made it there. The place had an old oak with a genius locus in.
Magi and Grogs scouted the locale and spoke with the people. They were happy to accept new magi as masters. Their isolation was threatned by expansive and warring mundanes.

So basically all three locations were covered with a couple f small stories. And eventually the magi had to choose a site and settle.

First of all, thank you for your brilliant suggestions, your awesome timeline and great article on timekeeping.

I think I'm going to start the campaign at 1210. I feel that this gives me some leeway. Anyway, the PCs have been granted seven years of hospitality from Durenmar and after that they have to manage on their own. During this time they can use the great library as they wish, but have to split their time between copying and learning. Durenmar will also loan vis (at interest). The diplomatic missions to the other covenants need to secure support from at least one covenant member, but their success will be reflected in the gifts that the covenants give.

Your timekeeping article gave me good ideas on how to bring up issues after the covenant has been established. I can already envision how I'm going to present things to the players and then give them agency on what issues to explore. I think I'm also going to bring them news from further abroad, but those are going to yesterdays news.

The Criamon might just want to be located in Trier, but the other magi might have other ideas. We talked about how the player would like to proceed and kinda agreed on a tentative Criamon path. I'm thinking that kabbalah is easier to twist into a path. I want to incorporate the character studying Jewish mysticism and theology into making the path. Half of the characters kabbalah skill is going to be added to Criamon Lore during initiations. The rules in Mysteries: Revised edition kinda make sense when applied to new cults, but just studying Criamon Lore and thus coming up with a valid path just doesn't make sense to me.

According to the tentative design, the first station is going to give a virtue based on gematria and assorted methods that gives out experience on hermetic arts and/or Criamon lore when studying the Torah and associated sources. You know, decoding the structure of the universe from the word of God thing. Perhaps the second station is going to be related to Merkabah which, it seems to be, will allow the character to practice Dominion Lore and perhaps other lores too by meditating. I'm not sure about the other stations yet, but perhaps the second to last is going to be holy magic which is going to allow the character to create a golem with a soul...

Holy magic does not exist in our campaign. This character would be an exercise in futility if Karaites magic would already exist and be part of the order. Anyway, I'm thinking that such hedge traditions should not be as powerful as hermetic magic is.

I think I have to foreshadow things that are coming along these lines. I really love how the setting gives you these rules that you should strive not to break, but that are impossible to follow. I mean, I can just go over the laws and come up with adventure ideas where you need to address things with mundanes, fearies etc.

The politics between covenants are also going to be explored, because each established covenant is going to be trying to get the PCs votes committed in advance on certain issues.

I think he was thinking about using CrTe and he has some vis of his own to boot. But there are going to be lots of uses for vis and you certainly bring about a good point. He has masonry and steelsmithing as his craft skills. I feel that he is going to focus on the latter at first.


FWIW, RoP:D has it totally backward about compatibility between Judaism and Hermetic Magic: Mainstream 'rabbinical' Judaism is far more likely to accomodate Hermetic practice, because the entire tradition is based interposing an interpretive filter on the Bible, whereas Karaite (in theory) take the Bible literally allowing no deviation.

So the Bible prohibits a laundry list of magical practices, and that's that: Karaites don't get to do any of that, including divination of any kind.

Legitimate opinions within Rabbinic Judaism, otoh, can easily allow all but the most obviously idolatrous or sinful practices. Those 'mercurian' gestures? That's part of the magic and have nothing to do with Mercury; as long as you don't worship or 'venerate' Mercury or some other real or imagined entity, you're fine. Divination not allowed? The Bible isn't talking about Hermetic divination, but the kind practiced by evil Canaanite necromancers and Egyptian priests, which is completely different. Some rabbinic authorities might even declare that Hermetic Magic isn't properly magic at all, but just something that some people can do quite normally, the same way that astrology is completely natural.



Tomorrow is our first session.

My plans for the first session are:

  • Have the players introduce their characters and ask how they know each other.
  • Introduce to the characters / players what lies ahead. As for the covenant location, they need to scout for a location, decide on the location, and secure the location. On the diplomatic front, they need to secure a sponsor from each other covenant.
  • I'll have Murion tell something about her goals to the Trianoma magus.
  • I'll introduce a few characters to the players. One of them will want to join their covenant eventually.
  • I'll support the players as their characters plan things out.

In each session I'm going to:

  • Try to come up with something interesting about the Middle Ages that I want to illustrate.
  • Introduce a new magus in some way.
  • Introduce a hermetic tradition or law. You know, something about Ars Magica in particular.
  • Introduce the situation that the players had planned to deal in the previous session with or introduce some unrelated issue.
  • Introduce a few situations related to the personality or story flaws of the characters.
  • Make situations problematic, choices difficult and decisions meaningful.
  • Have the players decide on what they are planning to do next session.

Between sessions I'll

  • Update situations that need dealing with at some point.
  • Write up an adventure based on what the players planned on dealing with next.
  • Possibly write up an adventure based on a story flaw. The players can deal with that or what they planned on doing.
  • Come up with neat things about the Middle Ages and Ars Magica that I want to bring up next session.

Seems sensible.
Let us know how it goes?

The session went well.

The characters agreed to spend half of the year doing stuff for the future covenant. They were not keen on loaning vis from Durenmar even though the terms weren't that bad. They wanted some help with all the copying that needed to be done and the Trianoma magus kinda recruited an NPC to join them. The PCs weren't willing to cut him in just yet, but I think they will be next session. That magus, Apollonius ex Jerbiton, also had a proposition to the Verditius magus. He haggled a bit and wanted to do a more impressive piece. We ended up with the following gear:

The Invisible Shield: a cross between a bracer
and a bracelet with a few rows of steel scales.
When you make the triggering gesture, it
briefly Wards the wielder from metal and wood –
effectively blocking almost all metal weapons.
[ReTe(He) 15: GL 2, +2m metal, +1m Touch,
+1m Herbam requisite, +5L 24 uses daily]

The magus has Craft: Steelsmith which was needed to reach a lab total of 30. The rest of the magi hit the books for a season. The Trianoma magus started to establish a penpal network so he could "scout ahead" so to speak in the diplomatic front.

The mages the decided to go scouting for the location first. We played a scene where it was established that the Gift sucks and that mundanes are a contentious and ornery lot. They did a bit sightseeing while on a river barge and saw that one location was taken by a village and another was populated by bandits. The bandits aroused old RPG habits and the players were keen to slay them later although the barge captain said that their leader was supposedly a bastard of a local nobleman.

Sounds like a good start. I think you made ( at least) 3 good points:

  1. Magi need to work together to build the covenant
  2. the Gift sucks socially, you need mundane consorts
  3. interfering with (or killing) mundanes has consequences. There is a whole society around the magi.

Suggest you check out our campaign.
Also set in the Rhine, basic plot so far is similar to yours.
Pretty sure my players don't bother with this forum, so here's a spoiler.
They have settled in an abandoned covenant i Prague. The magi were killed off in a power struggle. The players slowly bumble into the same power struggle as they uncover the lost secrets of the destroyed covenant.
Overall they are cought in a millenia old struggle between an ancient entity, possibly a titan or old one and the demon known as Radegast. They have battled for millenia through agents and secret organizations. The reason lost in time. The Titan has retreated totally into the magic realm. There are still humans who work in his name, mostly to gain favour/power or because of tradition. The servants of Radegast are corrupt or misguided/tricked believing they serve a pagan god.
The whole setting is slightly Call of Chtulhu inspired, the Titan is basically Yog-Sothoth.

Feel free to use the library forgotten-legacy.obsidianportal. ... is/library as inspiration for books.

Thanks! I sure will!

Yesterday I fleshed out the island scenario, wrote a bunch the city of Trier, statted up two grogs and wrote a bunch of potential vis sites. I also ended up delving into the history of the city of Trier.

They way I fleshed out the scenarios was to treat this like a mystery scenario. In a mystery scenario what I usually do is go through means, motive, opportunity and the relations between the NPCs and come up with three ways that each can be revealed. I also tried to come up with several possible events and complications in the island and in the city. With these, I also tried to bring the medieval to Ars Magica.

Both of the sites are pretty difficult to navigate. The social situations are far from simple. I think I'll offer the grogs and give a hint that the companion knight lives nearby. Well, if they mess things up, there's the forest site still remaining.

When writing up those vis sites, I found myself wondering about claiming them. So in the history section, one site was within a days journey of the covenant and was thus deemed to be rightfully theirs. A days journey?!? Does this mean that any site that is further than that is up for grabs?

Not at the 1220 AD Rhine Tribunal. TLatL p.19ff has a similar ruling for the 1220 AD Normandy Tribunal, though.

For the Rhine Tribunal read:

So an all-journeyman covenant better keeps its vis sources secret: unless allied magi prevent it, a neighbouring covenant could just snatch them by pulling rank.
A covenant donating a vis source at founding (GotF p.16 box On the Founding of Covenants) should still defend it for some time afterwards, though: it would just look too bad otherwise.


You might also want to check this out ... Palatinate
Some guy calculated travel times between main cities in the Rhine.