Published Ars Magica Scenarios

My perception has been that published ArM scenarios are a tougher sell because they're difficult to adapt to the unique circumstances of far-flung covenants. (You get a lot of faeries because you can move faeries around more easily than, say, Constantinople.)

What are people's thoughts on this?

What types of scenarios would you like to see? Are there particular tricks that previously published scenarios have used that have made them easier for you to adapt to your sagas?

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Some of the published scenarios have options to relocate based in the published tribunals. That was very useful for me with the "The Mound" of Thrice Told Tales. Different names, noble houses and locations. I just picked the ones in Rhine Tribunal.

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The core activity of the scenario needs to be clearly identified and subsequently hooked into locations and circumstances. I like it when there is a table linking circumstances to options/hooks. For instance, define the antagonist by station or position (rich farmer, local lord, merchant, clergy). Location needs to be secluded: hooks include forests, deserts, mountains. Just calling out how individual components can exchanged is in itself helpful.

Minor Thread-jack:
Whatever the scenario is, the most important aspect to me is that the relevant information is not hidden in flow-text and is either easily extracted or pre-compiled in separate pages. If the same information is needed in multiple places, it should be repeated, not cross-referenced. There are so many moving parts in ArM scenarios that flipping back and forth even in a bookmarked PDF is a pain.

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The stories in my saga tend to emerge organically out of the activities and prior relationships of the PCs or are related to the very particular circumstances of the covenant - so I have not found bolting in published scenarios to be feasible. I think this situation is pretty common.

What I can use is developed NPCs (such as are found in Antagonists and Magi of Hermes) and interesting locations (as found in Through the Aegis and Mythic Locations) - these are easier to drop into an ongoing saga.

But you are right that the range of possible settings for individual sagas makes it much harder to publish material that is relevant for a large proportion of the community - and this doesn't just affect adventures but all kinds of source material. With fifth edition there was a tendency to publish books at a high level of generality to try to get around this problem. This largely worked but could make the books a bit vague and abstract. The treatment of Faerie is a good case in point - while the old Faeries book was clearly rooted in the folk traditions and beliefs of north-western Europe and all the more compelling for it (although it would have been an odd fit for a saga set in the Theban or Levant Tribunals), with RoP: Faerie there is the sense that the legends of Greece and Spain should fit in with a conceptualisation of Faerie just as well as the tales of Brittany and Scotland. The book does a pretty good job of integrating a broad range of cultural material but can only do so at a high level of abstraction, which doesn't provide much direct inspiration for someone wanting to develop faerie stories in a particular cultural setting. Therefore ultimately it is a bit frustrating.

I think with sixth edition a different approach could be taken. Rather than trying to cover all of Mythic Europe equally, I would suggest that the line focuses in on a particular tribunal, or a pair of neighbouring tribunals. This would make it easier to publish a sequence of books which would all be relevant for anyone playing sixth. And accepting that a sixth edition line will never be as extensive as the fifth, it would enable the line to go into the setting in more depth than fifth simply because the books will be more geographically focused. This would actually make the line more attractive for people who already own all of fifth - they wold know they would be getting something knew, not just a rehashed version of material from fifth.

Sure we have tribunal books for fifth, but for me they don't give nearly enough information to run a decent saga. There is a reason Glorantha players keep going back to Sartar and Prax, and WFRP players keep going back to the Empire - these are highly developed settings in an otherwise much more thinly realised world, with a lot of established lore which experienced players have become fluent in. I think it is time Ars Magica had its Dragon Pass.

My preference would be for Rome (or Rome + Greater Alps) as Rome is at the heart of the Order and did not get a fifth edition tribunal book (there is a third edition book but it is pretty ropey). Others might prefer Stonehenge + Loch Leglean but there are already many ways of playing a historical fantasy RPG set in medieval Britain - it is pretty well trodden ground.

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Since every Ars Magica campaigns basically starts with a small world building session, creating characters, covenant and surroundings, there are few published scenarios that immediately fit (if not sending the PC's to a totally different corner of the world).
I'd rather like hooks and colourful NPC's which I can adapt and incorporate in my existing campaign than fully fleshed adventures.

I'm guilty of writing Tribunal-specific content, let me get that out of the way...

I have admired published scenarios like Cause and Cure, actually because they pose a distinct challenge and explore the world without feeling tied to a given place or time. Is there a cost to that? Probably that they don't feel integrated into a saga's overall narrative, perhaps. Nothing wrong with that, but I wouldn't build a saga on that alone.

So setting scenarios in a specific place helps, for me, to bring the character of the challenge alive. But I didn't do a great job in mine of setting out how to adapt to other times and places.

For instance... You might have a character who is antagonistic to the covenant or a particular player character. So stat that character up, fine, but state what kind of qualities you need so you can replace her; older, more powerful, antagonistic to the covenant... That way the troupe is less likely to try introducing a new character and more likely to pull someone from their existing rogues gallery.

So for me it's about grounding the scenario so you don't have to be coy or vague, but tell the storyguide how to replace or adapt certain components.

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Writing a scenario for Ars Magica is a pain! And that is because Ars Magics is a highly variable setting that requires a lot of specific information in order to make sense in a given location.

Either you write something so vague and generic it risks becoming bland, and it is more a toolkit for a scenario rather than a complete scenario.
Or else you write something specific and complete, which won't work unless the troupe and saga fits this quite closely. Many scenarios can work well, if some customization data is included, like Thrice-Told Tales: The Mound.

But this mostly applies for scenarios interacting with other than the Hermetic groups. Because Tribunals work differently and covenants are so very specific. It seems difficult to me to write a scenario about Hermetic interaction that fits all Tribunals. I mean, the covenants and magi the player characters will interact with need to be concept-defined, and with some work you might be able to make a table which names covenants and magi in Tribunals for each role in the scenario.
Given how different Hermetic culture and even interpretations of Hermtic Law is, the structure and plot may be affected: Hibernia have variations for Wizard's War, vis owvership in Normandy is different, legal procedings in Thebes etc. Also, some Houses are over- or under represented respectively across tribunals.

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Yep.

There is one way to make published scenarios both localized and viable for use in many sagas, though.

(1) Get the the player characters into the adventure at their home covenant - which requires a very customizable introduction.
(2) Leverage their magic to get them to the main site of the adventure, which then is localized, hence can be completely and precisely described in the scenario text.
(3) End the adventure in a way, that the character's return to their home covenant is plausible and allows them to take some rewards with them.

Nothing of this is hard. But keeping this scheme working again and again without it becoming trite is some challenge.

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A curious thought just crossed my mind reading What New Games Would You Like To See In Mythic Europe? what a Choose your own adventure would look and be like.

I think that is well laid out. And if some are just used as introductory adventures, that avoids the issue you bring up at the end.

Something else to consider is the approach Pathfinder has taken. I think the Adventure Paths are too mechanical and methodical to work dropped straight into Ars Magica. But something related might be able to work well. This is nearly done with some of the ArM5 supplements. But the Adventure Paths are more campaign-long. And then you wouldn't need to worry about the locale as much, either. For example, you could write an Ars Magical version of an Adventure Path in Novgorod, where you initially deal with setting up your covenant, then deal with some local issues, then deal with the Mongols arriving. In this case you would choose Novgorod Tribunal as your setting, but in the beginning of the book you could provide some different options to make creating a covenant to streamline the process while still letting it vary from saga to saga based on player preferences.

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A Choose your own adventure style gamebook would probably end up as a stats-free story with a modest number of choices, like the Endless Quest ones for D&D.

The issues are:
that Ars Magica scenarios have to be carefully tailored to the magi involved
that a gamebook with limited choices can never capture the freeform choices of a system as flexible as Ars Magica's magic system, especially spontaneous magic or the use of metamagic to alter a spell's parameters.

To deal with this, going system-free and more narrative is the easiest way to play a mage without having to specify the character and carefully nail down the exact spells you can cast, while allowing you to have fiction with the narrative depth that Mythic Europe allows.

Now, if you had a game set in Mythic Europe for someone without flexible magic, such as a redcap with a couple of items or a mundane scholar investigating the strange castle reputed to have an amazing library, then you could go for more of a gamebook using Ars Magica rules.
( Yes I have given such things a thought - I've even decided on my title of Ludi Solitariis or games for solitary people for my collected ideas for solo play)

I would heartily second what callen said. I think it would be nice to see a book of campaigns rather than scenarios. Something meant not for an already running saga, but for someone who's starting a new one. That way you wouldn't need it to be able to accomodate any saga, but rather you could make it extremely specific with all the flavor that comes with that. Something to build characters and a covenant off, rather than something to add to already existing characters and covenant.

The closest we got is the excelent Dias Irae, but all the sagas there deal with the end of the world, so something a little less extreme would be nice. The scenario books I find most useful are all slightly aligned to this: Thrice-Told Tales, Legends of Hermes and Antagonists, which all make a great job of providing the barebones structure to kick-start a new saga.

(Not meaning to diss all the other great scenario books, which are all awesome)

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One of the elements that I love, LOVE, of the published Ars Magica scenarios is that many of them pick an area but have a section of notes on how it could be put in other places and here are the ideas that could make them work there. That is useful. It means no matter where my particular set of players are stationed the scenario can be used.

I would like to add that I love the scenario books and if Atlas Games ever decides to get back to creating books for Ars Magica than besides the Tribunals we are missing I would pick that. (I really am still sad they aren't producing any more Ars Magica, as it was the only category of stuff I bought from Atlas I haven't purchased from them since then.)

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