The Tribunal of the Pale

This is a Hibernia story I am working on for my HBO Ars Magica campaign, and I thought I would solicit ideas from the Order at large. There's a lot of exposition here, and some questions for comment at the end, if you'd rather skip.

Those of you who've read THE CONTESTED ISLE know that Hibernia is the site of struggle between Irish magi -- who have traditional ways of doing everything from vis collection to Certamen to Wizard's War to voting -- and so-called "English" magi, which is to say "everyone else in the Order." Hibernian magi are on the defensive, trying to preserve their unique Peripheral Code, while English magi are trying to reform it, to bring it more in line with the rest of the Order.

The foremost agent of this reform movement is Helles of Tytalus, head of the covenant of Ashenrise. Ashenrise is strong and rich, but has only one clear ally in Hibernia: the covenant of Praesis, which is in Winter. The other 8 covenants in Hibernia are all neutral and isolated (at best) or actively hostile to Ashenrise and the English magi (at worst). When you add in the fact that, in Hibernia, hedge wizards and magical creatures get to vote -- and if they vote in their own best interest they would always vote against reform -- Helles is quickly understood to be the ultimate underdog in his efforts to reform the Code. From a game perspective, this makes a lot of sense, since Hibernia's unique Peripheral Code is exactly what makes it interesting, and PCs who go there are presumably choosing it because they want to be there. While there will of course be some PCs who want to go to Hibernia to make it more like the "vanilla covenants" elsewhere, it's easy to see why Hibernia's traditions are actually in a pretty strong position when it comes to resisting reform. Because that's more fun.

But it puts Helles in a very difficult spot. He's an expert debater, has a deep knowledge of the Code, and is a Tytalan schemer, but he's outvoted 5:1 just among magi, without even counting the hedge wizards and magical creatures. This makes a PC covenant central -- as it should be -- but if Helles wants to reform the Hibernian Peripheral Code, how exactly does he go about doing that?

Thinking about this led me to consider Helles's options, and it was while I was doing that I remembered Hibernia's "repeating the past" theme. The hedge wizards got forced into a subordinate position by the Hibernian magi, and it's strongly suggested that fate is against the Hibernian magi now, who will -- later if not sooner -- be supplanted by the English magi. It occurred to me that, as the hedge magicians were forced into a quarter of their former territory, so the Order could "colonize" Hibernia through the creation of a new Tribunal.

I realize that the LAST thing the Order needs is yet another Tribunal in the England/Scotland/Ireland/Wales region. But, from Helles's perspective, this seems like a far more realistic plan than actually changing Hibernia's peripheral code. Instead, Helles -- and Ashenrise -- would pursue a plan to form a new Tribunal of four covenants by the Grand Tribunal of 1228. Ashenrise and Praesis would form the first two of these covenants, an alliance already strong but made stronger once it becomes clear that Ballack of Praesis, senior in age to Helles by two years, would be the new Praeco of this theoretical Tribunal. That's a trade Helles is happy to make, since his priority is not personal power but, rather, establishing a more traditional Peripheral Code in this new Tribunal. Once the Tribunal is formed, Helles figures, they can go about adding new covenants to it and slowly expanding it over Hibernia.

The name "The Pale" is, of course, drawn from the name for the English settlement in Ireland. The Tribunal of the Pale would not conform directly to the mundane Pale, but would begin drawn around those covenants Helles could ally. But that border is a problem.

  • Qui Sonant (to the north) and the Peruchia of Nerius (to the south) are largely neutral and isolated, but they are quite Hibernian in their character. Their magi are Irish, but their leaders are old, the covenants are about to experience changes in leadership, and it's not certain the covenants will survive.
  • Lambaird is the biggest problem. It is hard -- but not impossible -- to draw any border for the Tribunal of the Pale which includes Ashenrise but not Lambaird, which is closer both to Dublin and the sea than Ashenrise. Presumably, you would solve this by drawing the line down the Slighe Chualann, a faerie trod, missing Lambaird, and then leaving the trod long enough to enclose Ashenrise.

Helles's strategy is two fold. First: in 1220 and again in 1226, support the founding of new covenants in Leinster and Meath populated by newly-Gauntleted magi from the continent. New covenants have to defend themselves against Hibernian magi for a year before they can claim the right to exist; Ashenrise would help in this defense, using both magical and mundane resources. (Ashenrise has a formidable military presence, including English knights.) Helles needs at least one new covenant at each of the 1221 and 1227 Tribunal meetings, and he needs those covenants to be friendly to both the continental Order and Ashenrise in particular.

Second: Once the requisite four covenants are established, at the Regional Tribunal of 1227, bring all those covenants together to propose the Tribunal of the Pale. The new covenants might not even know that this was Helles's plan all along (Ballack might be Helles's sole co-conspirator). The big fight is to get this proposal onto the Grand Tribunal agenda. If he can get it on the agenda, all his voting problems would be suddenly reversed: instead of being the minority voice outnumbered 5:1 by Hibernian loyalists, he would now be speaking for the majority against an outvoted minority of Hibernian isolationists. While some Houses (Bjornaer, Merinita, Ex Misc), Tribunals and factions would vote against the formation of the Tribunal of the Pale, more organized factions (Tremere, Guernicus) would be in favor of it, understanding this Tribunal of the Pale to, in fact, be a slow way to "colonize" Hibernia. As Hibernian covenants aged out and died, the Pale would slowly expand, and could even be "re-absorbed" into Stonehenge.

This has a thematic benefit of echoing The Troubles in Ireland, with the English/Hibernian magi serving as precursors to the 20th century Protestant/Catholic English/Irish struggle.

So, as promised, here are some specific questions I'd like to pose to the Hive Mind.

  • If you have run a "founding a new Tribunal" story in your saga, would you like to share your experiences? Specifically, how do you keep the PCs central in the story if they're not actually the folks pushing for the new Tribunal?
  • Have any of you Hibernian players and GMs played, or considered, creating a new Tribunal for "English" magi? I can't believe this idea hasn't been talked about already.
  • Do you have thoughts on how the Hibernian covenants, Houses, and factions might interact with this story in an interesting way?
  • Besides the factions and Houses I've already mentioned (Bjornaer, Merinita, Ex Misc, Tremere, Guernicus), do you see other interesting ways various "English" groups might throw in one way or the other on the issue of the Tribunal of the Pale?
  • Specifically, how might I make Ballack's effort to get the Tribunal of the Pale onto the agenda at Grand Tribunal interesting?


Rather than answer your questions, I'll ask you one of my own:

Hellas, an NPC, has many viable courses of action to promote his agenda, some at least as likely as the one you propose. What stories about potentially creating a new Tribunal do you find particularly interesting for your HBO saga?

I ask, because this attempt is likely to dominate politics and conflict in the Tribunal, and will therefore become a huge part of your saga.

Because if you need us to tell you what is interesting about attempting to raise the issue at Grand Tribunal, maybe it isn't all that interesting for your saga, and maybe you're better off with Hellas taking a different approach, such as opportunistically using specific incidents (perhaps manufactured?) to convince even the hedgies toward his point of view. It's different for a saga that is primarily about creating a new Tribunal.



Tribunals are not strictly geographic, although the island does make a natural set of covenants to make up a Tribunal. A Tribunal is four covenants with twelve wizards.

It's possible Helles could find three other covenants to form a Tribunal with Ashenrise, and declare it the Tribunal of Emerald or something. This strikes me as difficult and probably doomed to fail, but he's a Tytalus mage.