I'm slowly writing away the "Which Tribunal to Choose?" entry in the Ars Magica wiki, and I've finished this draft for the Levant. Any comments? Improvements? Changes?
[u]The Tribunal of the Levant[/u]
A saga set in the 13th century Levant Tribunal must contend with three themes. First is the crusades. The border of the Levant Tribunal in Fifth Edition (see ArM5 p. 201) corresponds to that of the crusader kingdoms, implying a strong connection between the crusades and the Order. It is likely that some magi aid the crusading effort, while others come to explore this exotic new part of Christendom. Other magi may hinder the crusading magi, leading to a political saga with zealous pro-crusader magi on one side, and anti-crusader magi (perhaps related to those seeking to learn exotic magic) and local hedge wizards on the other. Such a saga will likely involve heavy interference in mundane affairs, with all the plot complications this entails.
Yet if Mythic Europe’s history will follow real world history, the crusading kingdoms will come to an end as the century does. This change is precipitated by contingent events that may turn out differently in Mythic Europe. For example, a key turning point was the dissolution of the Fifth Crusade after a disastrous flood, occurring shortly after the secular and papal leaders of the Crusade parted ways. But in Mythic Europe, perhaps the flood was orchestrated by Islamic wizards, once the Divine protection of the crusade was lifted? Perhaps Hermetic magi could avert it, or alleviate its effects? Alternatively, could Hermetic magi remain in the Levant under Mamaluk or Ayyubid sovereignty, even as the crusading kingdoms themselves falter?
Sagas pursuing crusader themes will likely encounter Islamic wizards and would surely want to evoke the rich supernatural locales of the Levant. This brings us to the second theme, which is exotic magic. As the entire environment is Arabic, a natural place of inspiration is Arabian tales of magic, principally One Thousand and One Nights with its tales of jinnies, flying carpets, wizards, and magical places. Such exotic locales and elements could easily fill an entire saga. Magi can seek to befriend exotic wizards and learn their secrets, perhaps integrating their exotic magic into Hermetic theory, or the stories can simply serve as inspiration for fantastic adventures of all sorts.
Another source of exotic and ancient magic lies in the Biblical narrative, and includes elements such as the Adamite language and the Witch of Endor. The nearby land of Egypt is also associated with ancient magic such as the Emerald Tablets and the Cult of Isis, and Mesopotamia offers a rich mythology full of demons and other mythical creatures, astrological events, and strange divinities and cults. Exploring these possibilities may involve Seeker plots to find and integrate this ancient magic. Note that if Seeker plots dominate the saga, however, it may be advisable to pick a more thoroughly Hermetic background (like the Great Alps tribunal) for the player’s covenant, to provide contrast.
The third theme Levant sagas need to contend with is the Mongol threat. Historically, the Mongols attacked the Levant from the 1260 onward, and up to 1300 raided as far south as Jerusalem. They were, however, unsuccessful in permanently holding land, and were defeated by the Mamluk rulers. These invasions took place at the end of the Mongol era, when the Mongol realm was already divided into warring factions and was converting to Islam and Christianity. In Mythic Europe, however, it is likely that the Mongols will feature their own unique magical traditions and their coming should not go unnoticed in the saga. The Mongols may be used as a clear-cut threat, to be fought and defeated, or as a further source of exotic magic, wizards, and mundane political intriigue, or, perhaps most subtly, as an opportunity to renegotiate the social order and political and regional rights (such as ownership of magical places) of Hermetic magi in the Tribunal.
The Levant Tribunal is described in detail in the Fourth Edition supplement Blood and Sand. In addition to providing an historical, political, and theological understanding of the Levant, a large part of this sourcebook is devoted to the description of the crusader states, the crusades, interactions with Islamic wizards, and so on. The Hermetic covenants are also designed to support this theme, with the four major covenants being one supporting the crusade, one supporting the Arabic counter-crusade, and two mediating between these sides. The book also extensively describes Mythic Islam and provides a system for Islamic magic, as well as depicting the Mythic Levant with its jinn and other mythical creatures and artifacts, although Fifth Edition players may find these descriptions problematic (see below). Although not a tribunal book, the Fifth Edition The Cradle and the Crescent also deals extensively with areas surrounding the Levant and its content is highly relevant to a Levant saga.
Compatibility Issues: Blood and Sand is a Fourth Edition book, and its application to Fifth Edition requires some forethought.
First and foremost, the troupe should decide on how to treat Islamic magic. Blood and Sand suggested the Sahir as magi-equivalent Islam wizards, whose magic is based on summoning and controlling jinn. Perhaps the simplest way to do so in ArM5 is to treat them as Summoners, a Mythic Companion tradition introduced in Realms of Power: The Infernal with roots in the Levant. As this is an Infernally-tainted traditions, it may be advisable to alter the mechanics to represent a Magical one.
A somewhat more extensive conversion along these lines was provided by Nial Christie, the author of Blood and Sand, and is available online. This conversion is based on the Goetic Arts and True Names introduced in Realms of Power: The Infernal, and draws on The Mysteries Revised Edition for astrology and celestial magic, while keeping the tradition of Hermetic Sahirs from Houses of Hermes: Societates in mind. As such, it is fitted well into Fifth Edition canon.
The definitive treatment of Sahirs for Fifth Edition, however, is provided in The Cradle and the Crescent. TCatC provides many details on the sahir and jinn. This treatment is especially suitable if the sahir are to be truly magi-equivalent, powerful and flexible Islamic magi bound into an Order of Suleiman much like Hermetic magi are to the Order of Hermes.
A related issue is how to treat the jinn. While Blood and Sand presents them as elemental creatures, akin to Magical elementals although possibly of other Realms, under Fifth Edition jinn bear little relation to elementals and at least some are genii loci, spirits of places. Jinn were discussed in Houses of Hermes: Societates, and Magical ones were expanded on in Realms of Power: Magic. The definitive treatment, however, is once again in The Cradle and the Crescent, which describes jinn of all Realms and how they relate to Islamic magic.
Another feature of the Mythic Levant that is repeatedly emphasized in Blood and Sand is the lack of Faerie. This is unnecessary in Fifth Edition, where many jinn can be considered Faerie and Faerie auras and locales may (at the troupe’s discretion) be just as common as in mainland Europe.
Mythic Islam is depicted in Realms of Power: The Divine, and this Fifth Edition treatment should probably take precedent over the Fourth Edition (Blood and Sand) one (although the two are very similar). Note that this book also describes Divine Islamic traditions, including the Divine powers wielded by the Sufis.
Sagas exploring exotic magic may also want to utilize material from Ancient Magic, including the Language of Adam, Caanite Necromancy, and possibly Defixio Magic, Grigori Magic, and Heron of Alexandria’s Legacy.
Finally, we note that Blood and Sand depicts the Levant tribunal as exceeding the borders of the crusader kingdoms, reaching out into Damascus, Baghdad, and Egypt. We suggest that these far-reaches would be maintained, as they make sense in light of the political situation and as a “greater Levant”. Whether that would constitute an increase to the borders of the Tribunal is a moot point, but we do suggest most, perhap virtually all, covenants and magi to be kept within the Levant proper, so as to make the more distant parts of the Middle East more exotic.