The Tablelands: Ars Magica without Mythic Europe

Hello everyone,

We’ve often talked about the possibility of playing Ars in a more traditional fantasy setting, one without the trappings of Mythic Europe. For some people, that’s a non-starter. For everyone else... I present the Tablelands!

The Tablelands is not so much a fantasy setting as a framework for creating your own setting, one which is very different from Mythic Europe. It’s a short document, only 6 pages, that deals with some of the largest rule issues and provides lots of examples. It’s not intended to solve every issue or answer every question, but if any of you actually use it, I’d really love to know how it went!

You can find the Tablelands here.

You can also find me on Twitter @doctorcomics

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I see that the De Falt -clan made it even there.

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Divine has been properly nerfed and Infernal is no longer Stupid Evil?

There is no longer an overarching Organization of Magi nagging you with what you can and cannot do?

Go on... :eyes:

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I did cite Pendragon in the notes!

I think the document should really stress that you need some sort of narrative conceit for why this group of wizards is working together. They are from disparate traditions most likely, there is no Order, I’m assuming Parma Magica exists so it’s not beyond reasoning that they have come together under the previous charismatic but old Wizard but after they are out of the picture what sort of reason would this group stay together.

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I've only skimmed the top of the of the first page. My better half asked politely for attention.

I think it leaves a lot of work to be done, in terms of virtues, flaws, and abilities that need to be adapted to a non-monotheistic setting. What does the Pagan flaw mean, or does it even exist? The entire ROP:D would need to be essentially rewritten...

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Thank you, those that have read it over.

It is, of course, perfectly appropriate for the Divine to be all-powerful in Mythic Europe, and a Code that stresses non-interference makes a lot of sense when you’re trying to explain why the history of Europe has remained largely the same when there’s magi everywhere. I say all this because I enjoy Mythic Europe and the Tablelands is not intended to knock it or insult players who enjoy it. Like what you like! Your saga may vary.

Why do the wizards stay together? The pc wizards are all members of a royal court. They don’t have to like each other or even want to work together. But they enjoy privileges and benefits as court figures—including mundane wealth, comfort, power, and access to resources—that gives them an excuse to remain at court. I can address this in the document, thank you!

As to “there’s a lot of work to be done.” Yes! You’re right. But I encourage players to solve those questions as you need to, ratter than feeling they can’t start the game until hundreds of pages have been written or rewritten. People play Ars Magica with nothing but the core rules, where the Divine gets only a handful of pages! Let us not fall into the trap of preparation for the game becoming so laborious that the game itself never takes place.

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I did read it in its entirety and I liked it.

I would have liked to see some discussion on how magical humanoids behave. Questions like: "can elves be wizards?" or "does a centaur have Might and if so can it even learn?"

My impression from reading the game setup is that the setting you propose has as its core principle that the players start out in opposition to each other in a succession war over who gets to be wizard-lord of the lands where the game takes place. This is an interesting setting but far from the only reasonable alternative to have in such a game.

I would have also liked to see a discussion on how the setting could be modified to include a version of the order of hermes. Perhaps with alternate founders, how to create a code of hermes (NB: a code). I like the idea that there is an international institution that governs how wizards can act and especially interact and how they settle grievances.

Likewise I like the idea of the covenant, as in, the collective of wizards running an estate in order to bankroll a research institution.

I totally get why people want to ditch the order entirely, I simply dont share that preference. I also understand that it is your document and that you are free to design it however you want. But since this thread is now dedicated to discussion of the document that was my impression.

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Thanks for your input!

I’ll add something about nonhuman species as player characters. Presumably, this would have to be handled with Virtues and Flaws, but since none of those Virtues and Flaws already exist, players will have to create them in cooperation with the SG, using Strong Faerie Blood as a guide. My intention was that most of these nonhuman species do not have Might, and need to eat, and age, and learn, as ordinary human beings do.

You could totally create a fantasy setting that still has some version of the Order, and covenants. I didn’t do that here, only because I wanted to make the Tablelands as different as possible. Players can create their own Order at the table.

The court replaces the covenant. Yes, the “throne war” setup involves player conflict—which I avoid in my own games!—but it’s just one possible setup. Imagine a game in which one PC is queen, another is heir, a third is a chief advisor or a vassal lord. Everyone is still working together. Most of what we like about having a covenant is still there, but it’s trappings have changed.

Perhaps I should emphasize that more...

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isnt there some magic aligned version of faerie blood in a splatbook somewhere?

When reading it, I was thinking that what you describe is how I would play it in order to avoid having the game be about player-on-player conflict. However that is not the actual impression I got from the text about what the intended playstyle is. Some more emphasis or even another paragraph specifying that it is possible to play as the court instead of a succession war would address the issue nicely.

Another version of this that I had envisioned would be one of 2 options.

  1. The wizard king is dead and the circle of apprentices and junior wizards eye each other cautiously, decide that this is a fight they would rather avoid and come to an agreement that the wizard king will be replaced by a wizard ruling council.
  2. The king is not dead at all, nor is he a wizard. In fact the king is a mundane who has a circle of courtiers who "advise" him on all sorts of matters. The players are that circle of wizards. Exactly how much of a puppet the king is is then subject to YSMV.

An interesting campaign start for something like this might also be the “wizard-king” who died was trying to form an international organization/federation (a capital O Order along the lines of the Order of Hermes) but never got much beyond attracting wizards to his own kingdom before he died. So the campaign start is more determining how to carry on without this powerful and charismatic wizard and a little less “succession feud.” Though, of course, perhaps some within this Order which is just getting started feel they should rule it or even just that it needs a strong central figure even if they do not want to be that person. So the first sessions might be more like playing out the early tribunal than the feud mentioned. Dunno, just a thought.

EDIT: Any initial situation you go with this vague world also seems a prime set up to use something like Microscope to do a bit of world-building.

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There are some very interesting suggestions so far, but building a world from scratch is a lot of work. If there is a fantasy world you are interested in than it can serve as a source of inspiration and material. Even better if it is one that already has one (or more) game lines based out of it since that gives you multiple sources to pull material from.

Glorantha (as used in Runequest, Heroquest), Melniboné (Stormbringer, Elric!, Elric of Melniboné, Dragon Lords of Melniboné), and Hawkmoon (Hawkmoon RPG) are all ones that have extensive material and can provide an interesting setting.

I have taken part in a game using the Ars Magica rules set in Glorantha. The Magi were Sorcerers who setup an enclave (covenant) in the Dragon Pass. The realms were changed to Law [for Divine] (and directly related to Rune Magic), Magic (covered Elemental Gods), Faerie (covered Gods of Man), and Chaos [Infernal] (the Big Bad, though highly different from traditional Infernal/Evil forces).

Lunar Sorcery was associated with Chaos and used tweaked rules from RoP: I.

You don’t need the whole world mapped out, just the areas near the start area and rumors about places further afield. In Ars (and other pseudo historical games) I like that there is such a rich history to work from, otherwise I generally prefer that the world building be a collaborative process in the game between the players, a la Burning Wheel where you merely start with a rough medieval fantasy framework and certain sorts of skill rolls or consensus agreement allows players to just make up new facts at the table.

While I did mention a game played in Glorantha, I was more trying to point to using already existing fantasy worlds as a source of inspiration. It can help reduce the work of world building, while still ending up with a setting that is unique to your group.

After all there are many common tropes found in fantasy that have dozens of variations across established settings. Picking and choosing ones your group likes the most, with subtle changes, can help prevent trying to reinvent the wheel.

RoP:M has something that's ... similar, though not identical.

Designing a variant of it is that that difficult. I could post a write-up of three Virtues that are currently being done as OR, which create a Hermetic version of them.

"Blood of Hermes", "Legacy of Hermes", and "Presence of Hermes" which are the equivalent of "Strong Faerie Blood", "Faerie Blood/Faerie Legacy", and "Frightful Presence".

Between Sand & Sea also has virtues based on FB or SFB that is either magic or faerie-realm aligned.
See p50 the “Story Seed: A Claim to the Throne” inset.

While one could create another Order, it is not something you just do at the table. The Order as we know it is 400 years of history and case law which explains how wizards think in relation to each other. Creating a different Order either becomes very superficial or takes an awful lot of work.

The same really goes for the world itself. That ArM rules could be ported into a very different world goes without saying, and your document hardly says more than that. There is no World which comes alive with story seeds. I still find myself at Square 0 ... where I need to design the world with stories therein.

I ran a long running game, Scions of Nathas using the Ars ruleset in a non-canon setting and it worked fine.

The games wiki can be found here(http://scionsofnathas.pbworks.com/w/page/15312850/FrontPage) if anyone wants to plunder spells, items, maps, races, background, inspiration, etc. We've long since stopped on this game so happy to see it be of use elsewhere.

With a change of setting we got rid of almost everything from the Mythic European setting, including the Order of Hermes itself. I replaced houses with classes which were slightly more mechanically defined (in rules terms each class got a few virtues and flaws for free, which were often quite defining for how they worked). We kept the latin names of the arts because I honestly couldn't think of a better way of doing it without inventing a conlang and I'm too lazy for that. We did ditch the in game use of Latin though.

We also got rid of Faerie, Divine and Infernal realms as they didn't really fit the setting. This did have the unintended consequence of making it really hard to botch magic since the PCs would never have negative realm penalties and this is probably one of the few things I'd want to take a hard second look at if I re-did the setting, probably going for more of the route used here in the Tablelands. One of my aims in ditching the Divine/Infernal in particular was to give my players more agency in the morality of their decision making by removing the objective endpoints at either end of the moral spectrum. My players would have to decide what was good or evil themselves, rather than having things, areas and people be coded by realm.

I think the Tablelands, albeit functioning more as a sandbox than a strict setting lacks a social framework for the PCs to fit into. In Ars Magica, the order and the society of Mythic Europe envelopes, constrains and supports them, giving the PCs a sense of who and what they are (and do), even if defined but their exclusion from that society. In the Scions of Nathas game, I was deliberately creating a campaign rather than a sandbox setting, so the PCs were exiles from another land, placed in charge of thousands of refugees, hurled (via portals) to a new world. They were constrained and bound by the society that they themselves were in charge of, but at the same time, all the social structures they had were carried from their own backgrounds and could be freely changed if they wished. Essentially my players had carte blanc to do whatever the hell they wanted and no one could stop them, they were constrained only by their moral responsibility to the people they were pledged to protect. This provided a framework for them to work together, and gave them goals at the start of the game (namely, protect the people, set up settlements, find food/water/shelter, explore the surrounding lands, meet and deal with the locals, etc). Essentially, in the Tablelands, what do the PCs DO, and WHY? DnD solves this with the basic assumption that you are adventurers and this is your job, to go do heroic stuff. It comes with the assumption that the players will agree to accept the plot hooks the GM presents, no matter how dangerous, because thats what the PCs do. Ars Magica has a more subtle take, motivation is more about resources, curiousity and knowledge, with a hefty dose of management and protection of what the PCs already have (e.g. covenant, covenfolk, good relations with neighbours, etc). Scions of Nathas had social responsibility and the harsh realities of being refugees in a largely untamed wilderness (or was it.....). Why do the Tableland PCs do what they do?

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