Your Monday afternoon Ars Magica Update: The Schism War!
19% and 13 days to go!
Now our Campaign has progressed to Autumn, and Winter is coming...and we have lots of ground to cover:
What, exactly, is this ‘Schism War’ we’ve been hearing about?
If you aren’t an Ars Magica fan already, you may be puzzled by the references to the Schism War which have been flying around. This major event, which occurs right at the beginning of our period, opens with rumors of diabolism, blood sacrifice and apocalypse, and ends with the utter destruction of one of the thirteen Houses of Hermes: an unprecedented event in the history of the Order.
For those of you who are Ars Magica fans, you’ll have the pleasure of witnessing these events on the ground, and may even have a hand in shaping a little piece of their outcome...
It's the devil you know...
In the late tenth century, the leaders of House Tytalus were found to be making pacts with demons, believing that they had the strength to compel the loyal service of the fallen without falling to sin themselves.
They were wrong, and they paid the price as the Order purged their House.
In the aftermath, magi became ever more suspicious of one another's activities, demanding to inspect covenants, demands that were refused. Tribunals froze into deadlock as magi who were not directly involved avoided taking sides, and frustrated individuals took matters into their own hands.
Whispers become Swords
The Order of Hermes recognizes Wizard's War, by which a magus takes himself and his opponent outside the protection of the laws of the Order for one lunar month. During a Wizard's War, a magus may do anything to his opponent that his power permits, and such wars were declared to force investigations of suspect covenants.
The target of a Wizard's War may, of course, defend herself in any way she can; many died in these clashes.
Enter House Diedne
Over time, more and more suspicions came to focus on House Diedne.
Most of its members lived in single-House covenants, it was fiercely pagan, and there were rumors of human sacrifice, even of diabolism. It protected its isolation strongly, and was possessed of many strange magical techniques unknown to the Order, and cloaked in a veil of religion.
Enter the Tremere
Then Cercistum, Primus of House Tremere, declared that his House had proof that the Diedne sacrificed people to their pagan gods, and called for the House to be Renounced. The Primus of House Flambeau, overruling the voices in his own House that called for peace, threw the might of the greatest warriors in the Order behind the Tremere.
In a last-ditch effort for reconciliation, House Bonisagus called an emergency Tribunal of the leaders of the Order.
It voted to Renounce House Diedne, casting them out of the Order, and making it the duty of every magus to slay any Diedne magi he found. House Guernicus, the judges of the Order, took the Diedne representative into custody.
He was never seen again.
With the rest of the Order turned against it, House Diedne was doomed.
Rumors said that some members found refuge in House Bjornaer, or House Merinita, or in realms beyond, but there was no doubt that the House was broken and destroyed, and most of their secrets lost or hidden.
...of the Beginning
It is in this time of uncertainty and fear that your Covenant is established in the Stonehenge Tribunal, traditionally strongly aligned with House Diedne.
When the time comes for wizards to march, a House to be destroyed, and proud Covenants to be reduced to rubble, you will need to chart a careful course between the hammer and the anvil.
Standing openly with the Diedne is an quick way to end the game, but will you instead help to hide the Diedne in secret? Will you insist upon neutrality, or, perhaps, will you join the Tremere as they march? The affairs of Wizards are a deadly and subtle game, but even the smallest player can make a big difference in the years to come...
An Interview with the Primus
Today we have an interesting diversion for you all: our Primus Patron has graciously agreed to an interview. Without further ado, we turn it over to him:
First, a brief biography:
Nathan Dilday started playing games shorly after appearing on the scene in 1980, and has never really stopped. He supports his gaming habits by writing software in Boston, MA, and can also be found reading, debating philosophy, and taking as many people as possible to go see Sleep No More in New York City.
1) How did you first learn about the Ars Magica tabletop game?
You know, I don't completely remember when I first learned about Ars Magica. But I certainly bought my first Ars Magica 5th edition book at Origins 2005, the year after it won an Origins Award. Through my college years, I actually collected way more RPGs than I played, and the magic system of Ars Magica, in addition to the narrative style, hooked me fast and hard.
For what was the first time in my experience, I had a magic system that really felt systematic. Magi weren't anything like the D&D style wizards that I'd stopped finding satisfying. Ars Magica magi didn't just have a list of five spells that they could memorize; they could create entirely new spells, they could have strengths in different sorts of magic that didn't rely on spell lists... it really opened my eyes to how interestingly magic could be modeled in a game.
2) Do you have any interesting stories to relate about playing Ars Magica?
I've been the alpha storyguide in two Ars Magica games since I've moved to the Boston area almost six years ago. The first one was a saga set deep in the Transylvanian mountains, where the power of the divine was still weak and sites of magic power still frequent and powerful. However, almost none of the players were Tremere, so there was always an undercurrent of knowing that they were the small fish in the pond.
My more recent saga has turned into a story that could almost be considered a sequal to Years of Conquest; on the site of a long-abandoned Diede covenant near Newbury, Berkshire, UK, a group of magi come together and try to understand how secret societies within the Order, one of their dead(?) parens, a messianic archmage, and a monster that lurks near the covenant all tie into the Schism War, while trying to find a way to reshape the Order of Hermes from within a Stonehenge Tribunal dominated by the political infighting of two powerful covenants. We're entering the final act of that saga, and I'm just hoping that we can end the story in a satisfying way.
3) When you play a mage, which is your favorite House? And why?
As an alpha storyguide, my characters tend to be mostly "off-camera". I've created three for myself, and they probably represent my three favorite houses: Tremere, Bonisagus, and Verditius.
I was very pleased with the way House Tremere was subtly changed in the more recent editions of Ars Magica. In the 3rd edition, when the AM canon was still being tied to the World of Darkness Canon, the vampiric connection of House Tremere was rather overwhelming. It was diminished in fourth edition. And in fifth edition, those elements are almost completely gone, and in their place is a House Tremere that values the group over the individual. In terms of generating stories, I find their place in the order leads to amazing story potential with a wide varieties of different "takes" on the House. You can use Tremere like gangsters, where everyone knows the one in front of you will be backed up by the full force of the House if you cross her. You can use them for great divided loyalty stories, where the Tremere in a covenant has to choose between the good of the Covenant or the good of House Tremere (and, if you're getting epic, the good of the Order). Atlas will be publishing a Transylvanian Tribunal book in the near future, which makes me almost giddy, as we'll finally get a lens into what I believe to be the most mysterious Tribunal in Ars Magica, and along with it, we'll finally get a better sense of how House Tremere functions within its domain.
House Bonisagus and its focus on the extension of the theory of magic and the sharing of magical knowledge among their fellow magi is something that resonates with me, and is very easy to work with when one is making a character that needs to mostly be off screen. The magus always in his lab, reading, experimenting, and occasionally popping out to share with his fellow magi his newest discovery is fun for me, and encourages me to become more familiar with the magic rules (helpful as a storyguide!).
My love for House Verditius has a similar basis, with the additional element of the Mystery Cult thrown in. House Verditius magi aren't just trained to make magical items... they go through an initiation rite that makes items a part what magic *is* for them. They will always need an object when casting spells. But, even more important (from a character and story perspective) is that the initiation also infuses them with some of the first Verditius' hubris. They will be forever driven to make new and better items, and growing more powerful will only increase this hubris.
4) Do you have any favorite Spells or Items?
The Art of Mentem seems to crop up a lot in my sagas. Controlling someone's memories is often a shortcut for a magus to get the results he wants from interactions with mundanes despite their natural distrust of him. Trust of the Childlike Faith is always a solid choice, making your target quite gullible for a couple of minutes. Posing the Silent Question is another solid choice, allowing you to extract a bit of data from someone's mind without them saying anything.
5) Speaking of that, do you have any teasers for the Covenant you will build for the game?
Some people believe the Schism War was a spontaneous event... that charges were brought, Marches declared, and the situation escalated until the fateful Tribunal where the decision was made to march House Diedne out of existence. But in some covenants, the coming storm was foreseen, with schemes laid down and feuds begun well before. Will the war destroy a once harmonious covenant of magi, or can the assistance of others magi help keep it from falling into Chaos?
6) As Primus, how would you run your House?
SO MUCH POWER!!! :-)
As you might guess from my previous statements about favorite houses, I think the Tremere has a pretty good system: hierarchical, collectivist, well-defined responsibilities, and an agreed upon system for moving up the hierarchy in rights and responsibilities. Disagreements within the House should never be taken outside the House. House members would be free to pursue their own interests so long as they do not take away from the responsibilities those individuals have to the House.
7) You are certainly a patron of the arts, what attracted you to KickStarter?
Kickstarter has become my biggest bit of discretionary spending this year!
I was born at almost the exact right time to ride the wave of the internet age growing up, so I've been watching the way creators sell their creations. For games, in particular, we've moved from physical specialty stores to online vendors of physical CDs to digital distribution... and as the past 20 years have marched on, the long tail has gotten longer.
Kickstarter is the newest, and I think the best, implementation of that idea. Now creators have a system for presenting their creations to the world before they're complete, generating interest, offering price discrimination to appeal to people with vastly different budgets, getting early feedback on their work...
I think it's the price discrimination that really appeals to me. Want to attract people who just want to say "I hope you succeed" but don't want anything in return? You can have a $1 level. Want to attract early interest? Offer a limited number of early-bird slots at an amount lower than your planned retail price. Want a core of serious beta testers? Offer access to the beta at a higher price point. Have a backlog of previous products? Bundle them in with some of your current Kickstarter levels and get that product into the hands of people who may not have gotten it otherwise.
And, of course, Kickstarter is a great way to help make the things I want to see be created. I've been programming an implementation of the Ars Magica ruleset into a game off and on for years now because it was a game I really wanted to play. Now, I can help make sure that game gets made by supporting other game developers, and that's just a really cool, fulfilling thing for me.
Much appreciated, Nathan!
An Indie Friend
This world needs more M.U.L.E.! When we were approached to cross-promote this project, we just could not resist. We're looking forward to stealing our neighbors land, hunting the elusive wumpus, and roaming around with our MU...I mean, Rover. :)
We've just crossed the half-way point for the KickStarter Campaign, but we still need a lot of funding. Please keep bumping us, talking about us, and introducing us to whomever might like a grand strategy, Medieval simulation, magical role-playing game, please!
Thanks for all the support and help!