The Tablelands: Ars Magica without Mythic Europe

Honestly my impression of the Tablelands is that it is neither a setting nor a system, more of just an idea. As such there really isn't much actually there to critique. any single post apocalyptic setting id Dies Irae has more meat to it as an alternative setting.


Reuse! Repurpose! Recycle! So of course I approve.

My main question: What is the Big Thing you are trying to accomplish with your new setting? (For all that Tablelands is not fleshed out, I feel comfortable calling it a setting, similar to the way 13th Age is a setting.)

I'm not sure this hits the "more traditional fantasy setting" tropes, so maybe there's something else you're after that is not quite that?

Some thoughts:

  • Should wizards really rule? They rarely do in traditional fantasy, from Merlin to Gandalf to Belgarath. The exceptions to the rule tend to be Bad, such as Voldemort (who still does not get to rule, but fail in the attempt). Xanth is an exception, but everyone there is a wizard of sorts, and none of them are wizards in the sense that a magus would acknowledge. (I suspect that having wizards rule might be the core of what you are after, an inverse to ME. If so, it might be worth exploring the implications of that more deeply, and nail down more setting chamberpots accordingly.)

  • Others have noted the lack of not-quite-human PCs. Making decisions here is kind of important for modern generic fantasy.

  • The four Realms are unique to Mythic Europe. Maybe get rid of them? Or if you do want Realms with distinct Auras, it's worth rolling your own, taking into consideration what these distinctions really mean here. For example, other than inheritance from ME, why is the Divine antipathetic toward Magic... but Faerie is not? Why not elemental/humorous Auras instead? Or Tarot? Or Awesome vs Meh? Or... What does it mean that the Infernal is distinct from Divine but edgy? What is the history behind all this? In a real way, the interaction of Auras, Realms and Regios maps the metaphysical landscape of ME. Since it does the same here, I think it deserves consideration.

  • A court setting is tricky, especially with Ars Magica rules in play, which grossly favor the offense. A Throne War here is not likely to look like its Amber equivalent. I expect a paroxysm of death at dawn. Or dusk. If you are looking for a Throne War, there might be a mismatch between mechanics and setting. You also might want to consider making the setting more specific rather than generic, to help support the uncommon style of play. (In contrast, the conventions of ME constrain conflicts among PC magi, so it doesn't matter that the rules suit it poorly. These constraints do not exist in the Tablelands setting. I expect the Wizard-Kings of The Tablelands to always be concerned about what an enemy with a fistful of vis might do, especially when Parma goes down, and take appropriate precautions.)



For the ultimate in wizard rule turning out bad within a fantasy setting, look no further than the "Dark Sun" setting. The Sorcerer Kings, who through side effects of their actions pretty much turned the entire world into a barren wasteland, serve as a firm example of what can happen when you have powerful wizards rule.

It is also one of my fav settings and one that I want to play in without using the Prisons and Lizards rules.


2 other reasons wizards should not rule-

  1. it takes to much time: how are you going to master the secret forces of the universe when you are worried about taxation and crop allocation?
  2. It's too limiting: sure I'd like to go exploring the faerie realm and challenge dragons, but I have responsibilities to my kingdom.

better to be the power behind the throne and let them think of you as merely an advisor... also avoids pesky hordes of people with torches and pitchforks who blame you for the poor harvest or whatever little problem is annoying them this week, and invading army or something?

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Those are very good reasons for why I the Wizard do not want to rule.

They do not tell us, however, why no wizard should be allowed to rule.

I could give you all the reasons in the world why they shouldn't, but ultimately if they have the power to rule and decide to they will.
Any wizard who choses to rule a kingdom is clearly a fool- they should have spent their time studying politics instead of magic if political power was the limit of their ambition, and will wind up being poisoned by someone better versed in mortal treachery, or else frustrated by the detail work of actually ruling. At best they may claim the title of ruler and leave the actual job of ruling to others, in which case they simply make themselves a target for little real benefit (see aforementioned poison).
I think the real question that is not being asked is why other wizards should seek to prevent another wizard from ruling aside from a desire to have the position themselves. Which can be very setting dependent- on the one extreme is preventing backlash from mundanes who are tired of the fact that wizards can easily seize power but generally make very poor leaders, on the other end is concerns of ripping the world apart when two wizards start competing for power.
Of course there are a number of possibilities in the middle- ruling in name only might carry perks like access to vis sources in the lands you rule... which may also be a reason for other magi to prevent mages from ruling...



Just to be clear, when I ask whether wizards should rule, it is from the outside perspective of designing a traditional fantasy setting, not necessarily the perspective of a wizard within a setting.

In Mythic Europe, wizards do not rule because of the Code, because of the power of the Divine, and to a lesser extent because ruling might take time away from lab and library.

In the Belgariad, bad wizards (Grolim) do rule, but they are far less powerful than the good wizards, who do not rule, and largely consider that sort of thing a petty distraction.

In Middle Earth, good wizards do not rule because the illegitimate exercise of authority over others is inherently corrupting in proportion to the power that can be exerted. (Note Melian the Maia's gossamer touch in her relationship to Thingol, even when he steers recklessly into disaster.)

A wizard may or may not want to rule, depending on his character and how magic in a setting works. For example, if everyone who owes you allegiance is an Arcane Connection to you, paranoid magi will be quite reluctant to rule directly. But the question is different for a designer: The question of whether wizards rule or if wizards do not is about aesthetics, followed by making that reasonable given how the setting is set up.



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For Ars Magica Fantasy, I prefer the old Greyhawk fantasy setting. It is a world defined by a war between two magical empires, the campaign is heavily influenced by the Circle of Eight powerful wizards, and features other great wizards such as the lich-wizard Vecna and other wizard-kingdoms such as the Empire of the Bright Lands.

So I think this a setting where there is ample precedent for wizard rulers and politically-active wizards.

Note the setting also includes a heavy Infernal and Divine influence, with lots of fiends and half-fiends and gods and demigods. I don't see a room for a Faerie realm in this setting, however.

One major point missing in the document in order to implement a World of Greyhawk campaign is the treatment of demi-humans. I would simply construct them as characters with a certain package of Virtues, such as Strong Faerie (Sidhe) Blood (modified to align with Magic) for elves or somesuch.

If one were to take a classical fantasy world and assume that all gods use a divine aura, that faerie revert to nature spirits and entities from the story based atrocities, the magic aura becomes the magic of ideal forms and esoterica, and the infernal in the realm of demons and devils then what would remain would be to 1) redefine faeries, 2)restructure the realm interaction table, and 3) define blended realms- for example evil deities might have a blend of divine and infernal energy, Frey or Freya might blend divine and faerie and Thoth or Isis would blend magic and divine auras. Demonologists could have a blend of magical nd infernal, dark fey might blend faerie and infernal, and magic/faerie blends could happen almost seamlessly with creatures and areas which are of both realms- a magical garden, for example, growing exotic plants could easily hybridize the two.

While this position may get the post disliked by some, I think you can probably draw some positive influence from 4e Dungeons and Dragons; That edition they played very heavily with a 'power source' theme in their design: Arcane, Martial, Primal, Psionic, Divine. Pathfinder 2e split magic into Divine, Primal, Occult and Arcane, similarly.
You need to define how the different realms interact with each other, true, but you also need to decide how the different realms interact with the world. How do auras form, for traditional fantasy are any of the realms foreign?


Hmm... Divine, Primal, Occult, Arcane, Faerie, and Infernal... feels like there should be one more...

If you want one more, you could also look at something like the Runequest/Glorantha runes. Ones that might work: Chaos, Law, Death, Fate, Harmony, Illusion (though this one is closer to Faerie/glamor than traditional illusion), Luck, Man, Mastery, Motion, Spirit, Stasis, and Truth.

Those are more like forms than sources

If you take ArM out of Mythic Europe, it is not given that you need realms of power at all.

Ars Magica has a number of beloved and characteristic features, such as covenant as a character, long-term advancement rules, troupe style play, and the flexible magic system. The realms are not so often mentioned as a defining or indispensable feature. Losing them would not hurt these characteristic features.

Since most of the realms are defined by Mythic Europe perceptions, there is little point in trying to tweak them to fit a generic fantasy world. It is better to make the world, and if there is a case for a realm, design it into the rules. If there are no realms, or only the magic realm, then ArM rules still may play well. Or maybe, as has been suggested, you need one non-magic realm just to get more botches in play. Once you scrap Mythic Europe, even the Realm of Reason could serve that role.

the fact is that the original concept of the realm did come from classical fantasy- though the idea of 4 realms specifically seemed to be an attempt at some armature numerology to keep realms and seasons the same.

That may be, but many fantasy games do well without the extensive mechanics of realms, and many of the classic fantasy realms have little in common with the ArM interpretation of realms.

Maybe, mostly i terms of dominion being monotheistic, and faeries being related to story telling instead of nature magic, but those are relatively minor fixes for the realm structure.

I am not sure what realms you are thinking of.
It think of the Moorcock's Chaos and Order, and the rather vanilla Good and Evil.

Furthermore, I have seen quite a few posters expressing contempt for some of the ArM realms, particularly the Infernal and also against the separation of Magic and Faerie. I would think that one would want to get rid of most of this to facilitate vanilla fantasy.

Lets start with D&D- it clearly has moral dimensions (literally) where the benevolent gods can be described as the divine, there is standard by the book wizards and sorcerers magic that is the magic realm, demons and devils for the infernal, and faerun and faerie fountains, glades, etc that are faerie. realistically any fantasy setting can be described in terms of human magic (magic) inhuman magic (faerie), benign magic of the gods (divine) and evil dark magic (infernal). There may be settings where only some of these are used, and there may be settings where faerie should realistically be split into multiple realms, but fundamentally that is the core set for fantasy. For Moorcock it is pretty clear that order=good and chaos=evil even if he did switch the usual color signifiers. (Or am I thinking LE Moddisett?)

For Moorcock it is pretty clear that Chaos = Bad. Order = Bad. Balance = Good.