So, I at one point in my life wanted to play Ars Magica, and I spent a few bucks and picked up the core rules and read through them. Most of them. Some of them. Ok, not as much as I'd like. But I did try reading through them. And I thought the game was cool, and I wanted to play, but I didn't have a group. So the book sat on the shelf for several years until I found this forum, at which point I picked it back up and started reading through it again. And then promptly got distracted by other stuff, causing me to forget about the game almost altogether.
Anyhow, here I am, several years older, and I've got an actual group of friends IRL who have all expressed more than a passing interest in this system. Of course, most of them are like "Wow! Wielding awesome magical powers as the core mechanic!". But it at least sparked their interest. Enough to want to create characters and play. Which brings me to the central point of this thread.
Which tribunal should a relatively inexperienced ST start out with? I obviously need to buy whichever tribunal book is recommended and read through it. But I want to get the opinion of the community as I don't want to pick one and then realize I'm in way over my head with the meta-plot in that area. Is there one that is a little more user-friendly for people pretty green to STing in this system? Is there one that makes more sense for running your standard "Core rules and this tribunal book"? Should I just throw a dart at a board and pick whichever one the dart lands on?
"Faith & Flame" for the Provence Tribunal is advertised as relatively standard Ars Magica, and while there's plenty of plot events suggested I don't think there's an overwhelming amount of meta-plot.
Alternatively, you can set them in an isolated covenant anywhere you like and focus on supernatural adventures, and just ignore all their hermetic peers. When everyone else is just an occasional message delivered by redcap or the occasional offer to trade books, you can block out the rest of the Tribunal until you feel like introducing it.
To his second point, Novgorod is basically the hinterlands of the order. So it is easy if you don't want to deal with politicking.
YSMV Set it anywhere and don't read a tribunal book at all, or only take it as inspiration for your saga's version of mythic Europe. It seems to me that it would be easier to get new players into the mood if they were familiar with the real world locations. If your table likes London then have a covenant in London and don't worry about whatever book says there are already three covenants there.
When I first read Ars Magica it was in 2nd edition. When I first started playing it was 4th edition. We didn’t use Tribunal books.
For an easy start just pick a Tribunal where you’re comfortable with the culture, define 5-10 other covenants and get started. Define the other covenants by age/season, and by magic speciality, gimmick, or dominating house, and by political agenda. And during play more detail will be defined, specific magi are named, and they evolve.
Otherwise, my favourites are Rhine for heavy political plots or Hibernia for lots of conflict.
In fact, If I was to start now I’d pick up The Conflicted Isle and go for a Hibernia saga
If that's how your group is trending, you'll probably get maximum traction if you indulge the awesome magical powers.
So whatever Tribunal you choose, the culture should be such that meddling with mundanes and such isn't that big a deal. Vis should not be in short supply, though it might require adventures (in which awesome magical powers are used.)
The later Tribunal books benefit from the game authors (and editor) having gained experience with AM5. But the Tribunals are all special snowflakes, as though the design decision was to flatly assume that everyone knows how to play 'vanilla' AM, so no one will buy that book.
So I recommend getting the book corresponding to the part of Europe you want to play in, to get an idea about the mundane doings in that region, and its mythic people, places and critters. The book will have Hermetic stuff too, covenants and customs and metaplot but that's less important. If you want some of that, you might want to mention the kind of culture or metaplot you want, so that people can recommend a secondary (or tertiary) Tribunal book to read, to supplement the one that describes the place you like.
I have once or twice had someone suggest Stonehenge, because people are familiar with Arthurian mythos, and also the book has almost no actual game statistics.
Guardians of the Forest (Rhine tribunal) makes a good generic starting point, excepting the gilds which are big political messes.
I agree on both accounts. When I started playing it was in 4th ed and in Stonehenge, before the Tribunal book, so we just made up the other covenants. So I never used Tribunal books in 4th ed.
And although Guardians of the Forest has heavy politics, but the Gilds give another thing for magi to cooperate with, in addition to Houses and Covenants. And you have a wide variety of political agendas to choose to support or oppose.
I really liked the Rhine, as giving nice background and lots of story potential for a pretty generic medieval setting with ArM tropes. But I'd suggest skipping the whole Gilds idea or treating it as loose political camps only. Possibly also ignoring the "powerful magi have 2/3 votes" idea, to keep things more vanilla.
Another tribunal that's fairly vanilla and has quite a bit of high-magic and Arthurian mythos about it is Normandy. I again recommend against adopting its key idea - that of the Games - but otherwise I think it provides lots of local legends and details and nice covenants and ideas that can have lots of high-magic locales and plots.
I'd also suggest reading the "Which Tribunal to Choose" post over in Project Redcap for some notes on some of the tribunals. It's somewhat out of date, but can give you an idea what some tribunal books provide.
I'm a massive fan of the Rhine Tribunal, but as a personal giant history nerd I find running a campaign in it requires a lot of attention to both history and metaplot to make it "Ars Magica" and not just "some other fantasy game with a more involved magic system." For me, the point of the Rhine Tribunal is that it is a massive political mess both in the mundane and magical spheres, where a random German count can kidnap the King of Denmark and extract concessions from him that even the Pope can't undo.
I'd go British Isles, somewhere. Stonehenge, Hibernia, Loch Leglan. While the tribunals all have their own quirks there, their politics and mythology are so close to the fantasy ideas we can conjure up easily that it can be familiar and Ars Magica without too much work.
We intentionally and very deliberately wrote Faith and Flame to be as close to vanilla ArM5 as possible (hearkening back somewhat to the style of the earlier editions even if we did blow up Mistridge and Windgraven etc) so that it could be used without a whole lot of added complexity. Vanilla is common, but it's common because it's delicious as Timothy once said - the core game is actually pretty reasonable and you can then modify it as you see fit.
Having said all that, I'd personally prefer to play a campaign far away from Hermetic politics along the Silk Road or at least in the Levant - 4th edition's Blood & Sand: the Levant Tribunl is probably my favourite supplement and I did a partial 5th edition reworking over on my blog that could be utilised with some of the material from The Cradle & the Crescent and From Shore to Sea / Lands of the NIle easily enough.
So, thank you all for the suggestions! Sorry I didn't come back to say that sooner!
I went out and purchased Faith and Flame, and I've read most of it. I'd love to say I'm not confused and have no questions...but I'm confused on some stuff and have questions. However, I want to finish reading the text before I ask questions; it could be that some stuff gets answered in pages I haven't hit yet!
The RL group is still a thing, and we are still going to do this. We've all sat down and gone through character creation several times; we want to get a real good feel for how this part goes before we dive into a game. I know - best way to learn is to just do, right? Not with this group! That's just how we roll.
I think our biggest sticking point is that we have these magi who look cool, but their coolest stuff happens in the lab. So we're trying to wrap our heads around that aspect of the game, which is a bit slow-going. Hard to create a character that you effectively don't really play much. But we're working through it.
Don't worry. If you'd just read your first tribunal book and claimed not to have any questions, I'd have argued that it would have been proven 'beyond reasonable doubt' that ou were a liar
Feel free to ask away!