Title: Base Camp: A Saga of Exploration
Feel free to suggest an appropriate Latin name. I still have issues with my middle-school Latin teacher that prevent me from making a rational choice.
of Players: We'll say 3-6, but I'm flexible on this.
OK, first of all, I need to have my head examined--for a variety of reasons, not just for making this post. Nonetheless, let me say that I've been involved with online Ars Magica games for 12 years, most of it (the first 9 years) as an Alpha SG of one saga. I'm not going to say I was great as an Alpha SG (coming up with stories for players is one weak point, which is one reason I favor character-driven games, but I've gotten better at this), but I did learn something. Let me, therefore, begin by listing the two universal axioms of PbP games:
Players disappear temporarily, generally without any warning.
Players disappear permanently, generally without any warning (and when you do get warning, it's usually because they leave in a huff, which is almost as bad, and certainly more traumatic).
I'd like to try creating a saga that's designed from the ground up to deal with this problem, organically as it were. That is, I want to run a saga in a setting where disappearing characters (the inevitable consequence of disappearing players) is entirely normal. No, I'm not having them bumped off by death squads (I have been tempted, though). Rather, what I want to do is create a covenant where it's natural for characters to come and go.
To be slightly less insane, I'd really prefer to do this troupe-style. I'm happy to be Alpha SG, but I'd like some help setting up the covenant and running stories, and I'm prepared to use bribery to get this help (see below). That also means that every detail below is up for negotiation and, if necessary, a vote.
What I'd like to do is set up a covenant somewhere on the fringes of the Order that acts as a base camp for Hermetic explorers: hunters of magical beasts, Seekers, and the like. Levant or Thebes Tribunal would be an obvious location for Seekers, though Novgorod or even the northern fringes or Europe might work. Given that the covenant in question serves a public service for the Order as a whole, I envision that the Tribunal will have set it up as a dedicated covenant, providing beginning supplies (including a library and lab equipment), and putting a small permanent staff, including a senior magus or two and perhaps a skilled autocrat, in charge, with the stipulation that the facilities must be made available to any Hermetic magus who wishes to use them. PC magi could be either members of the permanent staff or explorers come for an extended visit, though my inclination, after the start of the saga, is to require a character to be around for a period, say three game years, before being accepted as a member of the covenant (that is, as "staff").
If players disappear frequently in PbP, it follows logically that the longer a story is, and the more characters it involves, the more likely it is never to get finished. To combat this, I propose to keep stories short, and involving only a couple of players in most cases--the longer the story, the fewer players it should involve. Yes, that means more stories, but less work and frustration per story.
In addition, I'd like to go with loose synchronicity: some stories are going to go quicker than others, and if they get out of sync, we can always catch up later by giving the characters in the slow story more downtime for lab work (I'm not going to blow up the covenant in the meantime, or anything like that). Having few characters per story, and more stories, naturally lends itself to this approach.
I will also encourage all players to create a "B-team": that is, a character we can run a (typically very short) story with if a story featuring the "A-team" gets stalled. This could be a companion, but it could be a second magus if you want, as well (it's not like your two characters are going to appear in the same story, so there's no real need to restrict power, since they won't have much way of helping one another; the main limitation is all the fiddly record-keeping required to advance a magus from one season to the next).
The impact of all this, I hope, will be to make sudden temporary disappearances less disruptive; given the setting, even sudden permanent disappearances can be explained by urgent calls requiring explorers to return to their permanent homes. And if they want to come back at some point, we'll just advance their characters in the background, and have them emerge from "hibernation".
I'll add a few other suggested details. I'm drawn to ruins, and I think it might be fun to establish the covenant on the site of a former covenant destroyed by some disaster (probably Aura 5). You won't have all the goodies you'd find in the junior-magi-revive-a-winter-covenant saga, but there should be some interesting lab locations, perhaps a regio or two, and maybe a few buried treasures. And of course, you'll live in constant fear of whatever destroyed the old covenant. What did destroy it, anyway?
I would love to see some Beta SG's. As I said above, I'm prepared to use bribery to accomplish this goal: perhaps some influence over what directions stories take? Or maybe some other perqs? I'm open to ideas here.
Deadline: If you can finish everything by the end of November, I'll let you design part of the covenant, including your own lab (it has to start without outfittings, but you can pick the raw material, like shape, weird features, and so on).
Starting Level: One consequence of having few characters per story is that there's no real need for all the characters to be of the same power level. Moreover, if we're going to have new characters arriving all the time, power levels will get mixed eventually anyway. Therefore, create however advanced a magus you want, though a very senior magus had better have a darned good backstory that explains what he's doing out here in the middle of nowhere, especially if he plans to leave his cozy home lab with the +10 General Quality bonus. We can make sure that there are appropriate rivals and challenges for magi of all power levels.
Magi past gauntlet can be created with any of the character creation systems in ArM5--if you want to do the work of Detailed Character Creation for a maga 16 year out of apprenticeship, be my guest. Lord knows I've done it, but that's why people suspect me of having OCD. (I should hope, though, that the troupe would veto excessively generous learning conditions.) I won't personally be bothered even by a character imported from another saga, as long as the character that enters this saga is street-legal and not far off what you'd get using by-the-book character generation, though this is troupe-style, and I can't vouch for the other players (I would, though, like to set up permanent guidelines at the start, so that things are consistent going forwards).
If you're new and shaky on the character generation rules, I'm willing to help.
Advancement Rules: I personally really enjoy the long-term planning aspect of Ars Magica, and so I'd like to see ample downtime between stories. That being said, a player who posts quickly can get through more stories than other players, thereby requiring less downtime.
As for power level (and thus vis income), I'm thinking mid-range, though that suggestion comes with the proviso that covenants on the fringes tend to be vis-rich, and face all kind of hideous monsters and nasty hedgies...er, wait, no, I meant interesting beings to be investigated. Maybe the covenant is required to send vis back to the Tribunal to repay the initial investment?
Combat Rules: Having stories with few players will allow detailed combat in some cases, but where a player would prefer it, the SG can do it all quickly and post the results.
Dice-Rolling Rules: Most players seem to prefer a public die-rolling service, which is fine by me.
Special Rules: I would suggest sticking as closely as possible to the RAW; I think this is especially important in a game with players coming and going, because it makes it easier to get up to speed. That being said, I was brutally attacked by a pink dot in my childhood, and since then I've had an entirely rational hatred of them. Moreover, I'm prepared to be more flexible on adding new Virtues and Flaws than on rules mechanics. I've got most of the books, and I do plan to make extensive use of Covenants in designing the covenant.
Posting Rate and Absences: I'd prefer a post at least every couple of days. If someone goes more than a few days without posting, I'll start sending gently encouraging PM's, and if I don't hear from them for another week or so, we'll try to fast-forward to a stopping point where we can put the story and character on ice.
Writing Expectations: My taste for colorful expository text tends to vary with how many papers I have to grade, with more papers tending to push me toward more text, since I'm a procrastinator. I'm not a fan of grandiloquent prose, but I am a professional writer (not of fiction, however). I'd like to see enough writing to convey character, though sometimes that can be done with a minimum of exposition, leaving the details to the reader's imagination. Why am I telling you how to write, though? I've got papers to grade if I want to do that.
Text Formatting: Let's handle the meatier details before we worry about this.
Plot- or Character-Driven: Character-driven. That's almost a necessity since character will be coming to the covenant with specific goals in mind.
Character Types: I'm not going to rule out anything just yet. Even one-dimensional characters have their place, as long as their players realize they're funny rather than the quintessence of High Role Playing.