This is an unusual post for me, because I need to complain about a book. I love the Ars line, I’ve gotten endless hours of enjoyment out of it, and expect to get endless more. But Lion of the North: the Loch Leglean Tribunal is just bad.
Disclaimers and Concessions: This book is 25 years old. It’s one of the earliest books in the 3rd edition line. We have all learned a lot since then, about Scotland, game design, Ars Magica and general research. None of the authors and editors who would be so important to 5th edition worked on this book. It’s not their fault.
We like to complain about Iberia and Rome and their demons under every doorstep, but both those books are much more useful than LotN. How so? Boy am I glad you asked.
NO MAP. Having a map of 13th century mythic Scotland is half the reason this book should exist at all. That map should have all the covenants tagged on it, towns and cities and castles, and tons of mythic locations that make great plot hooks. None of that exists in this book. I know regional tribunals are held at Loch Leglean, but this book does not tell me where that is! For those who are curious, Thrice-Told Tales tells us its north of Edinburgh. Seriously, that quarter page map of the Spider War in TTT is the best map of Mythic Scotland in the game line.
Only 3 Covenants. There are supposedly 100 magi in Scotland organized into over 13 covenants, but only three of them are described, or even named. I realize we need a few empty covenant slots for the PCs and their rivals or whatever, but if I have to create 10 covenant concepts on my own, I may as well be making 13.
No mythic locales. If any research was done into specific locations in Scotland that would make good spots for magic/divine/infernal/faerie auras, or vis sources, or anything supernatural, mythological, or folklore, it’s not in this book.
Layout. The graphic design of this book involves a page treatment that squeezes the two columns into a small space, ostensibly to leave room for marginal notes. Except the notes are few and far between, so really it’s just wasted space. We could have gotten a dozen pages of material into this book if we’d rethought this design decision.
No English Covenant. There’s a highland covenant (cool), a Saxon anti-Norman covenant (cool) and the covenant of Crun Clach (I’ll come back to that) which is pro-Scotland. But Scotland is in the middle of being colonized by the English, it’s the major conflict of the tribunal, and only one side is represented. I realize no one likes Ashenrise and they’re there mostly to be a punching bag for Irish patriots, but Loch Leglean needs an Ashenrise.
Crun Clach. This covenant is wealthy beyond dreams of avarice, unattackable in their layered faerie Regio, threatened only by a faerie lord who attacks every twenty years or so with a shinty challenge that he has lost every single time for hundreds of years. It is ruled by “the most powerful wizard in the Order,” a 300-year old Merenita who ages at 1/10th the normal rate, so she can actually expect to be around to meet Shakespeare. If she was an antagonist, I’d at least understand her role in the game. But because she’s wise, benevolent, and all powerful, I think her only role is to be a patron to the PCs and bail them out whenever they’re in trouble.
What’s good about this book?
Shinty. There’s rules for playing this athletic competition, and I am here for it.
Monsters. I can’t use any of their stats any more because it’s 2 editions ago, but that’s not the author’s fault.
Horsingas and Mac Gruagach. The other two covenants are pretty cool.
William O’Connor’s art will always be cool.
Ok, I’ve mostly gotten this out of my system. So, in a guilty attempt to turn this thread into something constructive:
What have you done in Mythic Scotland? Do you have cool links I can follow? A covenant or two I can steal? A map? Because I’m running an Isle of Man campaign and Loch Leglean is a big part of my stage. I could use the help.
I'm involved in a saga set in Cumbria, so I know exactly what you mean. I don't have any resources to give you but I can at least share how we handled it.
We essentially decided, seeing as information was so sparse and not all is easily applied to 5th edition, that the tribunal is only really a tribunal in name. Horsingas are used as presented but upped in strength a bit (they are a main antagonist in our saga) and openly interfere heavily with mundanes to their own advantage. The tribunal is so dysfunctional that they get away with this without punishment. Crun Clach has as good as vanished, fading into isolationism. Instead of adding more covenants to the mix we instead decided the other 'magi' of the tribunal are all gruagachan or other hedge traditions. So Mythic Scotland is divided between Horsingas, who routinely breach the code, and Clan MacGruagach, who ignore it entirely.
This is not a sustainable arrangement - you've got magi actively manipulating mundanes and hedge wizards who have acquired the parma and only get away with it by nominally joining ex Miscellanea (but continuing to practice their own tradition without regard for the code). Eventually this will come to a head - either something will be decided at a grand tribunal and enforced the hard way, or there will be open war between Scotland and the Stonehenge tribunal. This situation, which is slowly becoming known in the wider order, is a long term plot of our saga.
The vague plan is that the final conflict will roughly coincide with the Scottish wars of independence starting in the 1280's/90's. At each tribunal and grand tribunal the issue becomes more and more pressing.
With this approach Mythic Scotland essentially becomes the primary antagonist, as Gruagachan with the parma magica and allied with a renegade covenant in Horsingas is a genuine threat to the Stonehenge tribunal. If handled badly by the order it could lead to a repeat of the Spider's War (also Davanallus might return at some point, which would really screw things up). In the meantime there is a constant low-level magical conflict on the borders, which mirrors the border reiver culture of mundane society in the region.
I have been doing a lot of research about medieval Scotland with the intention of running a detailed saga there. I didn't mind that many things were left vague in this book as it encouraged me to discover information for myself and in so doing, become more familiar with it than I would have been from reading it in a condensed supplement. That said, I understand that isn't going to be an inviting task to many people and is clearly going to be a weak point with the supplement for those people.
The book touches on a number of locations briefly, but I agree a map would have been incredible to help get a visual overview of important locations and how they relate to one another and other areas. As a result, I ended up making my own map with a great number of important locations of my own design.
I think Loch Leglean is a perfect setting for someone like me who enjoys putting in the effort to do some of my own world-building. Maybe not for someone who wants a read-to-go setting where a great deal of the leg work has already been completed. I've put together over 30 pages of notes for myself.
There are loads of free and inexpensive resources out there, including some older books about myths and legends of Scotland. I used these to determine where I wanted to put points of interest and to decide what kinds of dangers and/or potential allies could be found in my Scotland.
That map is very helpful, Rich. Thanks for the tip!
And Azaun, I’m sincerely glad the book worked for you. You’re right, research is one of the joys of this game. I’m running an Isle of Man saga, however, which means I’ve got 3 tribunals in play, plus the Isle itself, and I was just looking for a lot more help than this book provided. I appreciate your links and advice.
Yes, thank you @Rich for pointing us to that map. I had not found that previously and it will be incredibly useful!
@Doctorcomics , I didn't mean for my post to come across as self-righteous or looking down on someone looking for a more thorough supplement. I 100% see how this would leave me wanting if I needed info on a neighboring Tribunal. It's pretty darn vague at points and could have been far less vacuous. I think I also watched a few documentary type pieces on Netflix and Youtube to give me a feel for the region, but I can't remember their names now.
There was some material of the Isle of Man in one of the 4th edition books called The Fallen Angel. It was an adventure supplement in which a Cross fell from the sky and landed on Snaefel (the Manx mountain) and involved a holy smith in Port Erin (the southernmost settlement).
There's an interest snippet on page 30 regarding an agreement (the Partitio Monaviae) made between the three tribunals agreeing that the island and its vis sources will belong to the first tribunal to put a covenant there (as Mann is Scandinavian controlled until the Mid 13th century they all think it must be inhabited by the Order of Odin).
Not me. Iberia is my favorite Tribunal book of all time. Rome is somewhere in the middle. But I do agree that Loch Legean was pretty bad. It wasn't 3rd edition though. It came after third butbefore fourth. There is this twilight zone of three books published between editions, when Wizards of the Coast bought Ars from White Wold and before they sold it to Atlas.Faeries was also pretty bad. Very inconsistent. Houses of Hermes was okay though.
I will admit though, I do like a blank(ish) canvas and Loch Leglean has some intriguing snippets. When we played a 1060-1100 AD game in Wales it was interesting to explore the Horsingas story and their retreat in response to the Scouring of the North (pinching some of their stuff during their retreat...). The Scouring seemed such a great tactic for eliminating a covenant by mundanes (although it created some Perdo vis along the way).
Except for the stats (if I remember right) and the art, large swaths of 3.5 Faeries is the same as the 2e Faeries. I was surprised when I sat them side by side how much they were the same. Of course, the 2e could well be bad too, I don't take a stand on it.
I shoud confess how I approached the book. I started Ars Magica rightwhen 4th edition came out. Faeries was advertised as 4th edition, and I was frustrated that the rules didn't match. Same deal with Loch Legean.
After a morning of brainstorming and casual reading, I have a few more Scottish covenants to add to the 3 in Lion of the North:
Rerigonium: Mentioned by Ptolemy, and possibly the same place as Pen Rhionydd, one of Arthur’s three courts according to the Welsh triads. This is a Flambeau House covenant of fightin’ feudal Galweigans. Located at Caldside Burn, a stone circle where people occasionally vanish, it’s an entrance to a regio.
Sororibus Devium, the Wayward Sisters: A lineage of Gifted Tempestaria and diviners living in a hillock near Brodie. Inspired by the three witches of Macbeth.
A French-inspired covenant of emigres from Normandy, supportive of King Alexander II and Scottish nationalism. No name for this covenant yet, suggestions welcome. Jerbiton, Tytalus, and Flambeau.