Variant Setting - The Eternal Shadow War


This is an alternate campaign model for the Ars Magica game, one which adds a mysterious threat while keeping the theme of the Order and its Magi in many ways the same. I'm posting it here not because Ars Magica is boring in canon but because the setting has so much potential to be shifted and morphed into various other possibilities. Also, I figured others might enjoy the concept I created here and so I felt like sharing it.


What first made the Order aware of the approaching great danger was when two covenants went went silent. Investigations of the sites couldn't find any signs of the magi, but the ruins did seem to indicate that the end for them was quite horrific and quite unnatural. Not much more was learned and so most magi began putting the events aside, just another mystery to add to the many that the Order knew about. It was only a few years later when a maga from a third covenant appeared at a Mercer House asking for asylum that the first true ironclad evidence that a mysterious dimension spanning war was going on in the background. The maga had with her magical recordings and solid evidence of the acts propagated by two races when they assaulted her covenant, of which she was the only survivor.

From this moment the Order became aware that two races were engulfed in a shadowy war across all of time and space. That this was a war going on for millennia and though broken up into periods of cold war it had just suddenly became hot again. What was even worse was that Earth itself was the battleground, for the two forces could not fight in their own home realms, for reasons that were not immediately obvious. No names or true identities could be determined, though all signs did point to each having a purpose - one was dedicated to Chaos and Creation and the other was focused on the path of Order and Destruction. But even more to the point, the two forces hated each other with a burning passion that seemingly knew no end.

To really make matters worse the Earth was right smack dab in the middle of the war. Mythic Europe was the battlefield where the two forces would and could fight each other without either having any hometurf advantage. While many elements of each race was unknown, it could be determined that entrance onto the Earth could only happen through certain proper points in space and time (often made easier if gates existed at said location). It was quite clear from the onset that mundanes had no hope of fighting or stopping the two forces, though thankfully the same could not be said for the Gifted. The potent spells and rituals of the Order of Hermes did work and could be used to resist, stop, or destroy the forces of both factions. At the point where the campaign starts neither Faction seems to truly be aware of the magics of the Order and so do not consider humans or the Earth to be a threat, a fact which provides the Order time to make plans.


Reality is a multifaceted phenomena. There are currently three main Realms as well as a host of demirealms (regiones) that seem to exist around them.

The first main realm is that of the Earth (or Mythic Europe at this time), a place naturally of the mundane and the natural. It is considered the middle realm, but it is also the oldest of the realms, for it has existed since primordial times, even before the other realms existed. The Earth is special in that any and all beings can live and survive on it, the Gifted of Magic or the two fighting forces. It is for this reason that the two dynamic enemies fight on the Earth, it can sustain them just like their own realms can. The supernatural in this realm is Magic laid up on top of the natural.

Arrayed around the Earth Realm are the individual realms of the two warring powers, one for the Chaos/Creation race and the other for the Order/Destruction race. The two aspected realms can house a being native to the Earth, but cannot sustain a being aspected towards the opposite realm. This means that why a human, even a Gifted one, can go to the Realm housing the Chaos/Creation race a member of the Order/Destruction race cannot sustain themselves in the Chaos/Creation realm.

Realms of Power

Though it is completely possible to keep the normal organization of the Realms of Power (Magic, Faerie, Divine, and Infernal) the same, I would consider it better to change the way the metaphysical landscape of the game works.

In this version of the game Faerie represents the race that is Chaos and Creation while the Infernal is that of Order and Destruction. Thus both sides are pretty bad.

That which is officially in Faerie but considered traditionally good or player-friendly can be rolled into Magic, which as always is the realm of power for the Gifted and the Order of Hermes. This means that many of the faerie creatures are actually Magical creatures in this version.

The Divine represents the unique and special power that has no true explanation but that can seemingly cut through all other powers. In a mythic sense it could also represent the First Race, the mysterious race that seems to have existed before and maybe even created the two fighting foes.

The nature of this change means that one cannot actually normally go to the Magic, Faerie, Divine, or Infernal realms. The Magic realm is at this point in time just a layer of mystical abilities added ontop of the normal Earth. Faerie and Infernal are realms where the enemy powers who are fighting each other lie. While the Divine is something special, unique and where the gamebreaking special features are placed.


The characters of the game are the Gifted. They may (and are designed around being) of the Order of Hermes but they could also be from any of the other eclectic magical societies. The point is that while mundanes and normals only die when faced with the warring forces the Gifted with their spells and rituals are able to fight back and even win.


The world of Mythic Europe of this variant campaign is almost entirely the same as normal. The almost entirely is because everything in the past remains the same and can be used withiut alteration (just add a mysteriously fallen covenant or city here and there to represent the fighting of the two warring races). In the recent past knowledge of the hidden war has begun to grow amongst the magical population. This hasn't stoped internal conflict but it is starting to change the focus on things.

Exploration of long lost sites are still common, but now its done to see if they have any information about the Shadow War and the forces fighting it.

Research still occurs, and while a lot of it is still to better oneself and covenant it also has taken a marshal and defensive tone.

Politics is still ongoing, but its now what should the Order and the Tribunals and the Covenants and Magi do about the warring powers, the mundanes, and the other elements of the supernatural.


The campaign is not about loss of hope, or feeling that the world is gonna die and there is no hope or reason to live anymore. Its about people seeing that their magics can do something and then deciding that they are going to do something. And then looking around to figure out what they can do, and then doing it. Its about banding together and trying to create something that could either stalemate the war, stop the war, or even get the Earth out of the war entirely.


The realm of Earth at this time is where the two forces fight because both can live on it without any weakening of their powers. This is because of the Magic that infuses the whole of the realm, a supernatural that is baiscally layered ontop of the normal and the natural and the mundane. But what if the Gifted (such as the Order of Hermes) found a way to take the Magic from the world and spin it off into another Realm, a realm of Magic for the Gifted and the supernatural of the Earth. It would be an equivalent Realm to the ones that are now the homes of the two warring factions, and would work to change the face of that war entirely. With the Earth no longer be so delicious to the enemies the mundane populations could live out their lives in peace, while the magical population (both Gifted humans and supernatural creatures and plants and spirits) could go to their own place and live their lives in a society without having to worry about what the mundanes think.


Need a better name for the two warring races other than Chaos/Creation and Order/Destruction. I do not want to call them Fae (or Elves) and Demons.


I would enjoy any feedback or constructive thoughts one might have on this. I'm not saying I would develop it further but well if there is enough interest maybe a collaborative project could be made, who knows.

Till next time! :slight_smile:

Using Criamon cosmology: clockwise and counter-clockwise / rising and falling / cyclical and countercyclical. This is quite similar to the war of the Red and the Black, if more overt.

I'm glad people are making these experiments in form, now that Mythic Europe is nearly finished.

On that theme, Empedocles called his force of attraction philotes and the force of separation neikos. These are not quite your forces, since philotes is a creative force but one of order, and neikos is a destructive force that dissolves everything into chaos. However, you might be able to build on the concepts.


I like the premise. The only thing I'm missing is more lore on the what the war is like. Why were covenants attacked, and if that's new how was the war waged ages ago?

On names - for Faerie I'd suggest The Nameless or the Formless to denote their lack of true being, and their association with Chaos; also The Others works, or simply the Seelie or Unseelie. For the Infernal, I'd suggest Asura, or Shedim, maybe.

Thanks for the feedback so far. Especially on the names.

I like having it be more identity than actual name. Basically the idea is that we don't know what they call themselves and thus we give them a callsign. Not that we couldn't actually pronounce their name or anything, but maybe names have power and so both sides did much to block their name from Earth's sight.

Timothy Ferguson

The stuff about Criamon cosmology having some knowledge of it is kind of cool, I might have to look at it. I think the fact that the Order knew some details of it, even if they didn't realize they knew, might be fun.

I especially like the whole nature of the two races being equal and opposites of each other - as you say clockwise and counter-clowise, one rises the other falls, etc. I will need to look into this stuff further cause its intriguing to me! :slight_smile:

Mark Shirley

I will totally look up these ideas. I always love the idea of using real philosophy and history and events as a basis for fiction. Being able to twist what really happened just a bit to make something new and unique and altered is always fun.

So yes, Empedocles and his forces of philotes and neikos are gonna get looked at further.


Your idea of calling them such things as Nameless and Formless and the Others are all really cool. I like how it identifies them but it doesn't given them a name. Both Asura and Shedim work but its really kind of like calling them Demons, just in another language. Still, the ideas behind those two names are interesting and cool and totally could have a part to play in things.

On to your other questions, I am still figuring things out. But I do have the idea that the two covenants attacked but totally destroyed were situated around gates or portals or something and then were attacked by each side as a sort of arrival point or need to get in. The third one - where the maga survived - was working on something related to maybe the cosmos or existence, basically they learned something they shouldn't and so got brought to the attention to both sides. She escaped with some data but they managed to destroy the whole thing.

The idea is that the Shadow War began ages and ages ago and rises and falls as various events go on. For the most part humanity was unable to process the fighting and so didn't realize it. But I figure that many sites of destroyed cities or settlements or buildings are actually from the war, rather than humans. But recently, due to the Order existing and having Parma Magica and the Aegis of the Hearth and stuff, there is a much better ability to know that something is going on.

The idea that I have is that neither side wants to destroy or conquer the Earth, its useful to them as is. As a source of Magic and as a place to fight on, and as a location to gather resources. So they don't appear with ten thousand soldiers and fight in plain sight. But they appear through doorways, gateways, portals (both summoned and created) and then fight each other. But its most especially done in regios related and connected to the Earth, but slightly off to the side.

Basically for the last thousand years or so the two forces were in a cold war state, that suddenly a few years ago began to get hot again. And thus the modern Order has to deal with it.

Secret backstory:

As a note I do have the idea that the two races are created. That long ago in the primordial past there was the First Race, a magical race beyond the kin of others, a race that felt alone and so worked to create two other races as servants and such. Eventually the First Race got old and tired and so decided to leave for pastures unknown, letting the two races take over for them. The two races hated each other but for the longest time were only kept in check by the First Race, and when that race died the two races went to war. It was a brutal destructive conflict, one worthy of myth and legend as two god-like beings tore through the earth and damaged the seas and caused fire over the land. The humans and other magical races at the time hid themselves for fear of destruction. Eventually the two races got enough knoweldge to basically gather around themselves the energy needed to 'copy' the world, aspect it towards their own energies, and fashion themselves a home plane disconnected from the Earth itself - so they could live in peace at home while still fighting each other. And thus was the first cold war part of their eternal war born.

Other Things

Honestly I haven't thought it all out yet, lol, so there are a lot of places where development is needed. Example includes how the Tribunals and the Houses all relate to this new knoweldge and development.

So if you have ideas and are interested please don't hesitate to provide them. Debate and discussion are really awesome and I would love to see about making this a more developed and complex and fun alternate setting based on Ars Magica. :slight_smile:

Also, you might like Nochnoy Dozor (Night Watch) and Dnevnoy Dozor (Day Watch), whether in movie or original book form.

The nature of how the Divine is present on earth should be fleshed out. If similar to canon, this realm would be the most effective in resisting/combating the spill over of the shadow war. Finding divine allies or researching better ways to integrate the divine into magic would become a top priority for magi. If the First Race (the Divine) is not actively present in the world and thus True Faith is non-existent (or statistically negligent), then magi would not be as concerned with the church (or mundanes generally) as they are in canon. Perhaps the interference with mundanes restriction in the Code of Hermes could be dropped entirely? That or you would need a new reason as to why magi are not ruling the world. If the First Race is active on earth, why? Their motivations need not be known to the players, but storyguides should have some clue as to why kings and leaders of the church have magic resistance.

Off the top of my head, perhaps the First Race in hind sight sees their creations as terrible mistakes but cannot directly destroy the lesser realms anymore (point for point, Divine power is stronger, but the Faerie and Infernal realms have grown so big they have more points). They can however inject their power in more subtle ways into the mundane world (True Faith and answering prayers) which might eventually undermine the other realms and thus weaken them to the point they can be directly attacked. How the First Race views the Magic realm would be interesting in this case. Is this realm also a threat? If so, we have a darker Mythic Europe for magi, where the church is not just suspicious of wizards, but actively hunts them down and destroys them.

Sounds like Earth in this variant is essentially the cold war battlefields. Two massively powerful factions, secretly aiding small groups (Musphelli cough infernalists cough diedne? cough) in what amount to special forces raids rather than open warfare.


I looked them up they are interesting and potentially quite informative and helpful. So thanks for the mention about them. :slight_smile:


I really like the idea of the Divine (as it pertains to its lowest levels, that is the one the people on Earth will see) having the ability to resist and combat the spill over from the Shadow War. Not so much fighting back, or winning, but basically assisting humanity in surviving and managing to get away from what is going on.

The idea of integrating the Divine (which means First Race stuff) into Magic stuff is interesting to me and I totally can see it as a potential possibility.

On True Faith I wouldn't remove it or even really change it. It could be the sign of the power of Creation or it could just be something unexplained that exists.

I also see what your saying, about the whole interference iwth mundanes not being as important, but I think it would be best if history up to the moment of play remains unchanged. This would require some sort of non-interference clause to justify things.

Maybe, and this is just a maybe, the reason for the non-interference code is a subconscious memory of the two Shaped Races even when their war was hidden and cold. The idea is that if those with the Gift keep themselves hidden they can remain out of site of the boogyman that many feel to exist.

I think I would up play the memory or evidence of an ancient higher past that was lost due to war. Maybe the Gifted can remember when they were taught at the feet of the First Race and then how it was lost (heck its kind of like the Garden of Eden story when one thinks about it, in paradise and then kicked out).

I don't mind the Church being as suspucious of the Gifted as they are in canon, but I do not feel making them more suspious benefits the theme that I am going for. While nothing says one couldn't have stories dealing with the Church while trying to find a way to fight a war against the Shaped Races, its more about figuring out and fighting or securing a hiding spot from the Shaped Ones.

I also do not want to downplay the religious nature of the Church. I guess I am just moving their spirituality from the realm of known (as it is in canon, we KNOW without a doubt that God exists in the Ars Magica world) to more faith and hope (so now we HOPE and THINK that God exists in the Ars Magica world).

I am also fine with downplaying the sheer power that the Divine has over the Magic while still letting it dominate the Faerie and the Infernal. But I am not sure how I want to go about doing this. hehe

Thanks fo rthe many ideas, its really cool, and I hope my thoughts above and stuff helps to spur you on to more feedback and conversation.


Yeah basically, that kind of sums it up almost entirely. On the Earth itself the two forces fight but they do it with special forces rather than massed battles. (They keep their massed ten thousand strong on each side forces to regione battlegrounds. - Makes me wonder what happens when a mage finds themselves on such a regio.)

Yes, I think that the two forces aiding certain groups on the Earth makes a lot of sense. Infernalisits, Musphelli, Diedne, who knows but its a pretty cool idea. I do have the idea that the two forces consider themselves completely superior (and will till humanity finds a way to basically put the staff down and say you shall not pass, which in my estiation could only happen if the Gifted make their own realm) and so the groups they support are pawns and 'slaves' rather than actual respected people.

I figure the two covenants that were destroyed due to them assisting the other faction secretly and so they were targeted, and I figure the third covenant was destroyed (and awaking humanity's ironclad proof of the Shadow War) by both forces directly as they were reseraching something that could reveal them. Though I will say that this is not a dark alternate setting where spys and traitors are everywhere and the corrupt are lurking behind every rock and tree.


Some more Information:

The Divine

Ancient Presence - Humanity existed in the time of the First Race. Humanity was at this time only one step into the civilization stage, and hadn't in most cases much of anything. The First Race found humanity and took in some of their members, adopting these early families of humans to a state similar to that of a pet or child. (This is a much more positive way than how they treated their two created races, which was like slaves at worst and servants at best.)

Protection - The First Ones went away, where they went nobody knows (not even, in truth, the two Shaped Races), nor does anybody know why they left. But whether they saw the coming strife or are just pretty smart they provided their adopted humans with some benefits - through particular ritual and ceremony both leaders of men and spiritual teachers can have magic resistance. For the longest time this magic resistance was the only way for humanity to resist the activities of the two Shaped Races. It wasn't long before the rituals that provided this became spread far and wide amongst the human population, so even those groups without memories of the connection to the First Race know about it now.

Modern Presence - The First Race is not actively present in the world or normal reality. One may find the remains of their ancient artifacts and sites of power, they did afterall live on the Earth. Some of their potent rituals and ceremonies of power still work and still can be used to imbue humanity (even the unGifted) with power, which can be either Magic based or Divine based.

What About God - This game does not seek to answer the truth of God or the creative source at the apex of existence. Rather we are using the nature of the Realm of the Divine as a material source to allow us to have game rules for something that might come into play. (Basically why come up with a 110 pages of new rules for the First Race when I can say in brief, Storyguides please feel free to gather material from the Divine book when needing to figure out mysterious relics of the First Race.)

Dominance - The First Race is pound for pound stronger and more capable than that which either of the Shaped Races are capable of doing. That said, the nature of the First Race being basically ascendent above normal reality means they take a much longer and more bigger view of matters than what the lesser races do, and the two Shaped Races are included in this. Furthermore, the two Shaped Races are transcendent, their creation of their own Realms of Power to inhabit gives them a level of connection that humanity at this time does not possesses. It also protects them from certain effects that could have been used in olden days to wipe them out. (Example, even if the First Race were to choose to try and wipe them out, it would be a long and uphill battle that does not in truth have an automatic chance of success.)

Views on Magic - The First Race lived in the world of Earth back in its more primordial days. Their power source was a little more mysterious than that which exists now, they took it with them and we now call it Divine. Magic was a phenomena that existed back then, was understood by them, was accepted by them. In fact many of the humans that were taken by the First Race probably had the Gift (needless to say the social penalties of the Gift have zero effect on the First Race, or even the two Shaped Races), which is what made them special.

Potential for Human Transendence - The First Race won't help nor hinder humanity as a general statement. That said this doesn't mean that certain ruins or relics won't become apparent the moment that Gifted humanity (i.e. the Order of Hermes in most campaigns) begins working itself down the path of creating their own realm of power.

Realms of Power - The teachings that make it possible for a race to create their own Realm of Power was something developed origionally by the First Race. The two Shaped Races took it, disovered more about it, stole it from each other, expanded what the other side made, and then utilized potent ritual and ceremony (and probably sacrifice) to make their own realms. Such rituals often require mysterious quests and seekings and the use of certain potent First Race artifacts that often poetically take on names like the Tears of Heaven, the Girdle of Peace, the Sword of Truth, etc.

Other Points

Interference - Hidden in the psyche of those with the Gift, and often passed down from master-to-apprentice in many orders and cults, is the knoweldge that there is something unknown out there. For most history nobody knows what this is, but there is teachings that say when the Gifted make themselves too visible than attention of the wrong kind may come upon them. For this the early magi of the Order of Hermes came up with codes of non-interference, to try and stop such a thing.
History Point: One of the hot periods of time was around Bonisagus and his kin's creation of the Order. Much of the nature of this hot war period was lost in the succeeding time, especially during the war against House Diedne.

Proxy Forces - Both of the Shaped Races often use proxy servants when interacting with the Earth, since why risk their own lives when minions can do it. Such proxies often follow the ideological lines of their 'parent' race, though sometimes each side supports a faction that seemingly should be supported by the other side. Various terrorist acts are caused by these forces following the dictates of their unseen masters.

Destroyed Covenants - Before the campaign begins three covenants are destroyed, two a bit before and the third as the campaign comes to life. The first two were proxy covenants (or had proxy agents) of one of the two races, and thus were destroyed by the other. The third covenant was researching something hidden because of its its maga knew about the Shadow War. The escape of one of its maga (not the same who was researching things) provides the Order with its full true ironclad knoweldge of the Shadow War and sets the stage for the campaign.

Summoning - Both sides can come and go on the Earth in small numbers at will through somewhat transitory quite easy to make gateways. But when they want to send major forces or largescale units they need physical portals to exist on this side. These portals are often ritual or ceremonially sanctified to work, and are usually situated around occult sites of significance to increase their power. Normal portals made through other magics cannot just be seized by the Shaped Races, so for example, Mercere Portals remain safe.

Defense - Magic Resistance from the Parma Magica, the Aegis of the Hearth, Wards and other such magical defenses all work to protect the target or person from the Shaped Ones. The fact is besides the magic resistance given to kings and leaders of the faith for the longest time humanity did not really have the ability to resist magic. That is, till the birth of the Order of Hermes and the creation of its many major magical defense systems, a fact which gave the Gifted the first ability to defend and fight against the Shaped Ones.