A late welcome to the Tribunals of the Stonehenge. I also play in Stonehenge, and as fate would have it I am about to do our second Tribunal quite soon.
On a generel note I think that Tribunals are both a crux and a pinacle of an Ars saga. They are so perfect stages for all that is ME and what it means to be a mighty wizard, but they are also a darn burdensome project to the SG! Even if I like the 1. person acting of roleplaying I really get intimidated by feeling I have to act out a multitude of characters - especially once as special as magi! I once played the live action Grand Tribunal Ars Fallen Fane -> the plot and setting is perfect for live action and I looked forward to it as the perfect way to experience a Tribunal. Frankly I was a bit disappointed - probably because of high expectations and because of it still being somewhat tough and unsuccesfully executed. In short the Tribunals in any case are enticing but tough to do.
I agree with the 'Hound' on his ideas on how to paint the canvas and set the scene aswell as I agree with Mark on the important thoughts to put into making the plot be functional and rewarding.
Now as I told you I already did a Stonehenge Tribunal once before. It was in fact the very first for the characters even if having played for a few years realtime. But it was a first in many ways - they had started as apprentices playing through their entire apprenticeship and this was not only their first Tribunal. I was the one for their initiation as proper magi. The time was for them to swear publicly the Oath.
The fact that they were junior magi/apprentices of course shifted the focus. Foremostly, as Mark is also advicing, I gave them a clear goal (beside just getting accuintances and embroiling themselves in the society of magi), namely to help their fifth apprentice friend achieve membership aswell as he was otherwise destined to leave the Tribunal as much an apprentice as when he arrived.
The background story is that he had been the first apprentice of them all - apprenticed to a volatile and sanguine flambeau master. As time progressed his master had realised that his apprentice was not only seemingly inept - he was a disgusting accuintance! The first because he had 4th ed. flaw making your understanding of magic alien at best, which is why his master found him to be impossible to teach (beside his mythic intelligence!!). The second because his magic was warped in ways that made odious gasses, vommit and spontaneous bowl movement 'erupt' from the apprentice when using magic... The master handed the apprentice off and took another. Later this apprentice, under new tutelage, rose to great appraisal (in his apprenticeship achieving a remarkable understanding of Magic Theory - even if no one could really decipher his ideas), and thusly earning the eternal spite of his former master who by now felt decieved. Alas, the new master dies and the old spiteful one uses Certamen to aggressively regain the former apprentice promising him to 'forever keeping him mobbing floors and never again to whisper off a single spell'...
The Tribunal story was thus aimed at having the newly, in fact not even yet, gauntleted magi characters maneuver through a foreign world of hermetic policies and old grudges to ensure their friend's right to being fully apprenticed - or rather as it turned out - to have him take his gauntlet at the Tribunal. Their main chip not being ressources but mostly their votes 'only' or future goodwill...
This was perfect because they had a clear goal, they had certain aspect of hermetic law on which to build their case, they new next to nothing of procedures, etiquette or social realities and they could thus be introduced as they went along or occasionally stumbled (as dividing up to acheive talking to more magi on one night and accidentlally promising their support to two sides opposed on a certain voting - sometimes no plot tops the coincidence of player action! lol). At the same time I had decided that the case of a single poor decidely uncharismatic apprentice was not more important to the majority of magi than allowing a measure of 'negotiation' even if illegal in terms of the Code.
My primary techinque was to let as much of the action take place 'off-tribunal' mostly only describing the tribunal functions as canvas, having the action take place at night and at intersessions. Secondly I relied on an extensive 'dramatis personae'. At times I prosper on keeping secrets from my players, but many times I do not mind at all that they know more than their characters. I've often taken to making a list of NPC prior to our sessions - often with pictures to each (I prefer to use authentic picture or woodcarvings - they are only for a sense of mood than to picture them exactly). These lists are often like the once you'd find in the intro to a Shakespearean play, but with a bit more meat on them. This gives the names in print to the players, let them remember their co-relation and it sets the mode for the story at hand. In terms of the Tribunal I made an extended one inspired by the material in Heirs to Merlin. Not all where there naturally but the 'Dramatis Personae' included a tally on who might carry someone elses. Besides all of the above reasons this had another advantage. Even if I still had to play each one of them, they somehow came more to life than they would otherwise had; the stood more out from eachother. As they met each one my act mostly confirmed the pictures (instead of just grasping at establishing them) they already had on their retinas - which made it easy to not only establish the NPCs, but also move beyond the descriptions they had to have them react to the player characters scheemings and act(ion)s. It takes a lot of work - but it is all worth the effort.. IMO at least
Now that being said I am still at loss on how to conduct my next tribunal happening in a precious few weeks. The characters have developed, I still miss a crucial central plot and I think I need to include much more 'in-Tribunal' action this time. Because some of my plots revolve around it and because I need to find a way to make it work! In that light I'm glad for your opportuniate posting of this thread.
As an exit remark (inspired by the live action remark) I think Tribunals are the perfect setting for bringing in 'guest stars'! I have used guest players from time to time - and I would do this for our upcoming Tribunal session if we werent going to a secluded summer house for a weekend some hours from our home turf (and far from civilization and its roleplayers). You might gain from finding someone in your own circles to join you for the Tribunal session(s). Might not have to be an Ars player or even someone the troupe knows. It might be a friend who is vet player who usually doesnt have the time, it migth be a rookie completely new to gaming and/or Ars or it might be the entire drama class your girl friend teaches on tuesday nights! Anything goes - and beside the gutt gripping fear of a burning crash, bringing in complete strangers to roleplaying can at times work wonders! And having just one extra voice to share the cacophony of voices or just the Praeco's or some such is a charm -what ever suits your plans- even going boldly where you might never have dreamt of going you might stop more than short of making it a full blown semi live session with full plenum af magi jabbering in mock latin
In any instance - enjoy! And don't refrain from sharing your final experiences! Especially if you do this prior to the 16th of February