I have been thinking about the possibilities for a fictional tribunal in Mythic Europe. The name is, of course, a reference to Ruritania, the setting of The Prisoner of Zenda, which gave its name to the genre of Ruritianian Romance.
Now, the real point of this post is to invite all of you to brainstorm the Ruritanian Tribunal with me. But before we do that it might be worth defending the concept a little. Why invent a fictional tribunal when we already have so many great ones?
A fictional tribunal allows us to sidestep history. For example, if one of my players wants to make a female knight but doesn't want to deal with all the problematic aspects of such a thing in history, we can simply create a tradition of female knighthood in Ruritania, which makes it much easier for the player to make the character they want. If we want a flourishing pagan culture in Europe, well, the rulebook tells us that doesn't exist in 1220, but Ruritania could have any pagan culture we desire.
A fictional tribunal allows us to more easily introduce the supernatural. For example, it's pretty plausible to say that a king or other monarch might secure a longevity ritual from the Order (or some other method of long life) and, in so doing, reign for over a hundred years. We don't do that with historical figures because it messes up history, but it's easy to do with a fictional King of Ruritania. If we invent an ahistorical hedge magic tradition with powers that aren't from actual folklore, Ruritania is a great place for that tradition.
A fictional tribunal is useful to players and GMs who don't want to worry about history. Ars Magica has come a long way in its research and embrace of history, but this has also made the game more intimidating to new players, who feel that if they don't get the historical facts right they're "playing the game wrong." A fictional tribunal creates a safe space for new players who don't want to worry about historical data and geography, or who just want to make up their own.
A fictional tribunal allows us to create a sandbox that doesn't disturb the rest of the setting. We can postulate all kinds of things in Ruritania that stay within the confines of the tribunal and don't affect larger European history (any more than we want it to). If we want a hellmouth to open up and a horde of rampaging demons to pour out, they can do anything they like in Ruritania without disrupting the rest of Mythic Europe.
It's fun. It's fun to make things! Let's make something!
So this is the topic I propose to brainstorm:
What elements—places, individuals, the supernatural—might we include in a fictional tribunal?
Geographic features (every tribunal has a Tallest Mountain, for example, and there's usually a covenant there)
Towns and Cities
Culture and Folklore
Hedge Magic Traditions
Here's some basic parameters:
The Ruritanian Tribunal is in eastern Mythic Europe, bordered by the Rhine, the Transylvanian Tribunal, and the Greater Alps.
It's one of the smallest tribunals, geographically no larger than Hibernia.
It's relatively easy to found new covenants there (this is for the benefit of new players).
It was partially conquered by the Romans, giving the ability to have Roman Ruins, but was far from the Empire. Perhaps they were seeking some rare resource.
It was not fully integrated into the Empire? Wonder why; maybe some powerful force kept them out?
I think an option of more Active Fae relations with the Nobility. The Fae courts could have openly intermarried with the local nobility for generations, and this could lead to a more open an accepting socieyy for the fantastical.
some more radical Governmental systems. A Republic, possibly inspired by Plato, ruled over by wise Philosopher Queens.
The tricky thing is to invent the four covenants needed to found a Tribunal in such a small area, and somehow engineer their coherence and history as a Tribunal.
EDIT: Anthony Hope puts the capital of Ruritania between Dresden and Prague - but that makes its area even smaller. He thus also puts it closer to the medieval powerhouse Prague and does leave it far less space to develop as a Tribunal.
No, the Ruritanian Tribunal does not include any of those places. This is Ruritania, source for the genre of Ruritania RomanceA completely fictional country. It does not include any real world place. It has forests, mountains, and towns, but all of those places are made up.
And that’s what I’m asking everyone to brainstorm!
At least if we follow Anthony Hope with this, Ruritania still lies in Europe and has borders with European places and a railway line, right? So where are these borders with Your Ruritania? What do magi flying over these borders see? Or does this just not matter for you?
In that case just referencing Ruritanian Romance - with its English noblemen, French courtesans etc. - did not help much. A huge low level magical regio might perhaps work far better for you, right?
Wait, it has a railway line in Ars Magica?
English Noblemen and French Courtesans suggest something along the lines of modern day Western France, probably northwestern. Perhaps this is a large Island off the western end of the English Channel?
If I recall there actually was a (small) island in that region the submerged (slowly, not cataclysmically) during the late middle ages.
There's no need for Ruritania to occupy a land currently part of another Tribunal. You can just say it's somewhere else, but mystically connected to a couple of mountain passes, remote valleys, or shady inns to Mythic Europe. A little like Semita Errabunda, except that it should be accessible via regios, not a regio in and of itself. This also ensures that anything wild one may set in Ruritania does not spill over into Mythic Europe.
Personally, I'd like two things from such a tribunal.
The first would be a setting that follows logically from the Ars Magica mechanics.
Remember, in Ars Magica a question that often comes up and gets shoved under the rug is "why don't the magi (or other mystical agencies) do X, given that they can and would have great benefits from it?". In fact, Transforming Mythic Europe is about just picking, one at a time, a (small) handful of those Xes. What if everything were true all at once?
The second would be a setting that explores different times from the standard 1220. For example, I'd like a tribunal where the vast majority of it is still stuck in the early middle age (say, the late 8th century), with barbarian hordes still on the move and certainly no guilds, universities, or courtly love; and a small pocket of it has advanced to the late renaissance, perhaps even the early industrial revolution, with gunpowder and steam engines.
Perhaps you should explain that fictional a little better. Clearly, Mythic Europe is fictional. But that doesn't do it for you.
The descriptions of late 19th and 20th century fantasy countries like Ruritania, Ixania, Freedonia, Estrovia, Grand Fenwick and hundreds more nearly always stress, how these countries exist only in a novel, a satire, a play or a movie - and the reader or spectator needs to make their connections and draw their conclusions.
Do you wish this fictional aspect stressed even more, within Mythic Europe? LIke such a fiction existing in Hermetic literature, or being staged by Faerie troupes or kingdoms? Real medieval literature does indeed fulfill similar functions.
The setting of ars magica is one that draws on correspondence with places that actually exist in our world, and at a specific point in our understanding of the history of our world. As I understand the op, the question is about a hypothetical location within the setting that dispenses with the former, and perhaps stretches the later a bit.
Just that it appears to be set in Europe proper, with roads and borders like Strelsau - and in particular a Tribunal somehow integrated with the Order of Hermes. So no more "fictional" than the Order and Mythic Europe.
To integrate just a "free for the troupe" area with one or more covenants into Mythic Europe there are many means - but decisions need to be made.
The easiest way is grabbing a truely out of the way area of medieval Europe (see TME p.89ff). Åland for example could have been acquired already in the late 800s by isolationist Hermetic magi, who split into several covenants for some reason and have not been integrated with any Tribunal until 1220.
Travel and trade by sea with ships of the Hanse is possible, but otherwise nobody bothers the magi, and if a local head of a Viking family acts as Duke Michael or King Alfred the Quarter-to-Twelfth, we are even close to 'Ruritanian Romance' or such.
Perhaps say that during the Schism War such terrible earth-shattering rituals were cast that 4 or 5 chunks of Mythic Europe along with their inhabitants were "semi disconnected" from the rest of geography and general memory. The chunks have agglutinated together, and their old Roman Roads still reach to their original locations.
The directions are twisted, but start from Ruritania and head South you find yourself on the road to, say, Bath England. Head West and you find the road to Prague or Vienna, North to Carcasonne in France, and East to Krakow Poland for wild example?
If you don't follow the roads, you probably can't leave Ruritania.
You probably need to define your climate up front, as well as whether Solar eclipses reach Ruritania.
You can look at sub rosa #19The Cloudlands for further inspiration here. Quoting @Ben_McFarland:
The structures and towns closely resemble the mundane counterparts of the people living beneath different parts of Aiolia, and one may cross vast distances in Mythic Europe far quicker in the Cloudlands than on the ground far below. One valley may mirror Normandy, while the next resembles Germany, and a day's walk brings one to the Balkans.
The core problem I see is that your chosen location is inherently contradictory with your intent. Stuffing a new land the size of Ireland where the tribunals of the Rhine, Transylvania, and Greater Alps meet is inherently going to step on the mundane geography, politics, and history of the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary.
You'd be better off moving your location east, probably on the Novgorod-Transylvania border. There's a lot less surviving historical documentation out there, and Kievan Rus has not only disintegrated, but the feuding successor principalities aren't particularly important to history, since they all wound up conquered under the Mongol yoke, with well-to-the-north Moscow becoming the future center of things. It's also a place usefully beyond close observation by the Church, whether the branch that looks to Rome or the one that looks to Constantinople (particularly with latter disrupted by the 1204 sack of Constantinople and the establishment of a Latin Kingdom).
So the quesion of tribunals and alt regions is something that we have discussed with my gaming group, after someone pointed out that they are fascinated by the ecents in the kingdom of Hungary but have no interest in a game set in a tremere dominated tribunal.
This led to the followong conclusion: what ArM could do wity id a framework for generating the mundane and supernatural facets of a tribunal. This could be through tags or sliding scales.
For examples tags like [dominated by one house] [Domus Magna: house name], [low/high Vis], [(un)co-operative], [competitive]... so that one could with 5 ish tags define a tribunal. Using IRL history to generate similar tags for the mundane kingdoms/empire within the tribunal would be convenient too (even though the real history part is a big draw for me), so things like [numerous/active civil war], [(no) feudalism], [low/high religious influence], [main religion: (name)], [(de)centralised leadership], [foreign invasion], [mostly X terrain type]... would again, with a few keywords let people build the mundane aspect of their tribunal quickly.
Then for each keyword have a few common plot hooks that could affect a saga, as well as pregened NPCs that fit the tag and plotlines (in a [civil war] a stated up pretender, regardless of whether is is a big duke fighting for decentralisation or the king's cousin going for the throne).
For short, give a man Ruritania and he can game for a saga, teach him to build Ruritania and he'll game for a lifetime.
Above point not withstanding, since it doesn't so much answer the question as it suggests that we build a framework to answer that kindnof questions, here are a bunch of contributions in no particular order:
the kingdom is multicultural with the western end being strongly germanic influenced, the counties in that part of the tribunal are referred to as Gau and led by a Graf (or Grafin). The largest and most powerful ones are Drachengau and Grippenagau, who are rivals. Both take their names after the major supernatural apex predator ofnthe region (dragon or gryphon). The Grafs of Grippengau were longtime allies of Bavaria whereas the Drachengrafs had often married into the Bohemian nobility for counter balance. Since the event these alliances broke down but cultural affinities remain. With the current Drachengraf having better relations with the slavic Kniaz of Zmey.
edited: the Christian church is significantly weaker within the Kingdom, and while present overall, theyhave not been able to stamp out the pagan religions. Most communities hold on to their ancestral faith, with about a quarter of the population having adopted a branch of Christianity or another.
Catholicism is more present in the north and west whereas an Orthodox autocephalous church (Liturgically vlose tonthe Bulgarian rite of the first preachers who brought it across) is more followed in the rest of the Tribunal. The head of the orthodox church, Theophilious, is almost 100 years old, thanks to longevity positions supplied tonhim by his Tremere sponsors. He has golden eyes due to his tremere touched ancestry, most believe it a divine blessing.
The high lords playing both factions against each other to maintain their position.
Further Edit: other locations, to avoid the ire of location-litteralists could be:
The last unsunken islands of Doggerland. So a set of islands adding up to about as much land as Ireland in a not-so-British isle which is at the crossroads of Scandinavian, Flemish, British and Northern French.
Listenbourg, a latin but non iberian tribunal where the celtiberian and visigoths still survive in some form or another.
What is the period setting of the series? If only 25% of the population has converted to Christianity by the time of railroads then it is likely still a pagan kingdom in the manner of Lithuania or Livonia rather than a Christianized tribunal. In fact for 5th edition one could simply plop the entire setting down as a mythic replacement for Novgorod- or at least a section of Novgorod.
+1 for moving this "Ruritania" over to border with the Novgorod Tribunal... specifically in the north, on the Baltic, or the south, on the Black Sea: including some coastline on a substantive sea IMO gives a LOT more room for various stories.
On that same theme, I might place such an "a-historical" tribunal on the Mediterranean, maybe Thebes/Levant or Thebes/Transylvania; or Provencal, at the Iberian or Roman borders.
I'd just shove the existing Tribunal borders aside; no reason not to change the fiction of "canonical" Mythic Europe... you're already doing that! (and on THAT same theme: there is also no reason not to do the same "shove Tribunal borders around" to fit (for example) a landlocked tribunal in at the Rhine / Transylvania / Greater-Alps junction, if that's where you want it... or an interesting wholly-surrounded independent one within Tremere-dominated Transylvania, if that's got the stories your Troupe wants to tell... etc etc etc ad infinitum).
And, in fact, to simply add an invented (mundane) nation, to be largely freed from the (sometimes excessive(*)) obsession with history & historicity.
(*) noting that one player's "that's obsessive" is another player's "that's my baseline minimum"