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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.)
I like Yirkash's "pre-gen covenants" idea. Ideally something where, after a year or two, if the players are really itching to get away, they can leave and THEN, with a few game sessions under their belts and an idea of what a covenant is/has/should be, take the time and trouble to do covenant generation. Asking a group of new Ars Magica players to make decisions about their covenant when they barely made characters is a LOT of front-loading, especially since these are decisions that will have lasting consequences.
That was Semita Errabunda in the beginning of ArM5.
I very much agree with this.
Generating the characters is really front loaded for someone who is not used to the system, starting the campaign with the PCs as peregrinators or visitors of some kind in a more established Covenant for a few years so that the players get a feel for what's what seems like a good plan. On the other hand, I really like having the start of the game being the players founding their Covenant, since it feels like a start in medias res which a prologue in Dunremar wouldn't give as much.
Maybe a more narrative way of generating the COvenant would be nice, with the story teller offering a series of multiple choices where the players pick the boons/hooks as part of a narrative rather than just from a shopping list (the video game Tyranny did this very well).
"You have found two level four auras in the area, one is in the hunting woods of the local baron, one is on churchland and then there is a level three aura at the top of a hill which local villagers avoid thinking that it is haunted."
And right there you have plot writing itself, the ST sets the narrative based on what sort of story they are inspired to run, by choosing the church or lord as likely early antagonist, but leave enough space for the players to have agency as well.
What I think would be nice is also a more organic way of populating the Covenant, so picking a size and then based on that a number and ratios of families of workers/ crafters/ guards/ farmers who would sustain the Covenant.
If your narrative choices were on a deck of cards, you could create your covenant with a tarot-like spread. I like this idea a lot. How to break everything down to binaries, though?
Oh yeah, a covenant generating deck. I love it!
I guess you'd have suits for the different things (people, locations, realms) and then you'd have four piles:
So the players would each be handed a hand of cards and would have the choice to take cards either into the Covenant (representing people getting recruited to the Covenant), into Boons (which would force the next player to place a card into Hooks), into Hooks (if not forced, then allows the next players to play into Boons) or into discard.
So supposing 3 players:
Player 1 has in their hand: Noble, Mercenary, a Faery and a Monastery.
They could play any of them (since they are first) so no matter whether what they play into Boon/Hook it become an ally/enemy of the Covenant, and whatever goes into Covenant is a resource
They choose to Mercenary as hook, telling the ST that the magi annoyed some mercs at some point.
Player 2 has: Shipwright, Swordsmith, Forest and Aura in their hand, so they choose to give a Covenant aura Boon (meaning more powerful aura)
Player 3 has: Monks, Knight, Library and magical animal
They chose to add the magical animal to the Covenant, suggesting that it is a friendly inhabitant of the aura.
Going back to Player 1, they then add the Noble to the Boon pile, making the party friendly with the local noble house
Player 2 plays the Forest as Covenant ressource, therefore establishing a location.
Player 3 must play something into Hooks due to the current imbalance and puts the Knight there.
The rest of the cards are discarded once enough is established.
So in this case, the St declares that the Covenant is established in a high aura in the forest which is inhabited by a magical deer (maybe a familiar for a mage later?). The local Noble was convinced to cede his hunting ground to the party in exchange for their promise of aid when his cousin, a Knight of some renown returns with mercenaries to claim the family castle. The mercenaries themselves have a grudge against one of the party magi or a companion from an event that happened in the past.
So pre-made scenario could then have all the cards defined for when the Covenant is established, so the ST hands out the cards. For each of the three possible piles, the scenario could offer plot hooks and ways to integrate what the card represents into the game.
Of course the problem would be balancing the cards, as everyone wants a high aura, peasant might be seen as of low concern, and few people would throw a Demon into their boon pile...
I have done something similar as that for character generation on D&D. Haven't really considered it for Covenant generation- I am a huge proponent that limitations enhance creativity. Deal out three cards, chose one for your hook. Deal out three cards, choose one for your boon. Lots of potential with that sort of thing.
I had a lot of good experience with Thrice-Told Tales and Hooks; mind you, I never got to the second stage of any of the Thrice-Told Tales, but I got a lot of mileage out of them regardless. (Because you go back to each adventure 3 times, TTT is the closest we have to an "Ars Magica Adventure Path.") Mythic Locations is also really great for this. Through the Aegis has built in adventure hooks which I stole. I love all these books. The longer adventures in Tales of Mythic Europe/Power were harder for me to use, but interesting reads and a great resource to be mined.
I would like to see adventures that illustrate some of the foundational adventure types in Ars Magica:
- Exploring an abandoned covenant. Calebais already does this, but that doesn't mean it's the only way to do this. In particular, I think exploring a Deidne covenant would be interesting and different. I realize ArM5 avoided the Deidne, but this is my wish list and I'm sticking to it.
- Vis hunt. Again, I realize this seems like a small story, but a one-session vis hunt may be the quintessential "what do you do in Ars Magica?" story, so let's show GMs how it's done when you do it well.
- The "Join or Die" dilemma. The PCs come face to face with coordinated hedge magicians, and must decide what to do about them.
On the topic of an "Ars Magica Adventure Path":
I've learned a lot about Adventure Paths in the last year and a half. I think something like this—probably not as a series of paperback adventures but as a single hardback "Saga in a book"—has tremendous potential. Not only do you show people what a whole Saga looks like, not only do you do most of the work for them in this work-intensive game, but you also create a shared "event" that Ars players can talk about. We see signs of this with major plot points that have already appeared in ArM, like the Lotharingian Tribunal, the Spider, the Duresca Scrolls, Mongol Invasion, or even the Deidne. Players love to share their version of what happened in their Saga regarding these plot points. But an AP would take that to 11, creating a whole community of people who could play the same campaign in real time, stream it, share their experiences on social media, create props and player aids for it, and do all the things that create and strengthen a community.
If it were me (and forgive me, I know it's not), I think it would be best to have a covenant location already baked in and start the PCs as they emerge from Gauntlet. There's two strategies here: Set it in Provence and let the PCs travel to all the various Tribunals we already have ArM5 source books for (the "This is Tuesday so it must be the Rhine" option), OR, and this is my preference, use this as an opportunity to explore one of the 3rd/4th edition Tribunal areas and update it as we go, giving new stat blocks for the magi we want to keep, going to locations we got wrong the first time (Sicily, for example) and revising the Hermetic aspects to fit ArM5 canon (Tremere). There are no shortages of good candidates. So, you could do the Mongol Invasion and update Novgorod in the process, or a Frederick II saga and update the Roman Tribunal, etc.
I honestly believe such a book has enormous potential for the game and the line.
Such an Adventure Path can be written in sub rosa or Peripheral Code. It might even be underway ...
I like where this is going.
As to why a person might play Demon, well the thing is: every campaign is going to have enemies. You might as well pick the one you find interesting. Maybe "bad" cards are required, or you get something in the game for playing them (redraws, draws from a restricted pile of cooler stuff...)