Grand Tribunal is the Ars Magica and Atlas Games convention held annually in the UK and USA. This year the Sixth Grand Tribunal (UK) took place on the weekend 17th-19th August, and featured 37 delegates and 3 authors from the line, but had a smaller than usual international presence.
Friday evening saw most of the delegates gather in Cheltenham, England before heading off to a local pub where we had a room set aside upstairs. While the weather was extremely warm for most of the weekend, we were able to open windows and the room proved much more suited to our needs than the cellar bar we had used in previous years. Isolated from the rest of the pub it was a private space where we could easily have played boardgames or rpg if we had chosen, but everyone wanted to socialize! one thing that is noticeable about the convention is it has attracted a hardcore of attendees who come very single year, regardless of whether or not they are currently playing Ars Magica, and catching up with old friends is an important part for the experience for many. We even have a few non-gaming ‘friends and family’ who enjoy the event and come along anyway to be sociable, and some of them try a game and get hooked each year. Only the historian David Sivier has so far resisted the temptation to play a game yet come year after year, but we will persuade him next year. One of the more amusing incidents of the weekend was when group of us were outside the pub and found this in the window display of an antiques shop. There we found in the shop window display a Jawa and Stormtrooper costume!
Saturday morning as always saw the big Ars Magica freeform conducted. This year it was Mark Steedman who ran The Tribunal of the Borders, with Loch Leglean and and Stonehenge magi from five covenants trying to resolve their differences and put an end to raiding of the covenants by each other. This was a good game, and raised really interesting issues about what happens when your grogs belong to clans with a mundane tradition of raiding; the covenants very soon are bound to be drawn in to the conflicts. This is just as much a feature of Hibernia as of Loch Leglean and the freeform really brought it home; Burnham has been raided with magical assistance from Horsingas, but the raiding clansmen slain in the attack included some from a third covenant that was not directly involved, except by having grogs who shared a clan with the Horsingas clan raiders and therefore had joined the war party without their magi assenting in any way. There was a huge amount more going on, but I never really learned much of it as my boar Heartbeast Bjornaer was more passionately consumed by his love of truffles, and his motto “I snuffles for the truffles!” It was a marvelous game, and as always people costumed beautifully, and lent costume to others.
After the freeform we took a group photo, with those who wanted to appear, but many players had already changed by the time we had a chance to arrange it back in to normal clothes. Still here are some of the Freeform group…
After the freeform Mystery Playtest One saw a group of magi trying to chase down a diabolist who had betrayed them, and the most outrageous grog ever played by Taryn. Good fun! It is always good that David Chart allows delegates to sign NDA’s and take part in ongoing playtesting of books that are not out yet for Ars. At the same time Andrew ran the Oh, Doctor Bi Sheng! – or the Cathedral and the Bizarre, a very popular scenario he wrote set in medieval Quimper, and Anna ran the only 4th edition game of the weekend The Village Ghost, which I heard good reports of too! It is an interesting feature of Grand Tribunal that 3rd and 4th ed. Ars Magica games are still popular, even today, though 5th ed. is dominant now. Two groups who were playing earlier editions have switched to 5th ed. since coming to GTUK last time.
The next session again saw three games; Tom ran Mystery Playtest Two, and Andrew S ran The Jerbiton Summit, a seven player mini-freeform that proved very engaging and featured a House Jerbiton special convention seeking to resolve a Papal Schism – at least I believe that is what it was about, as sadly I never got to play as I was running the other event in the slot (see below). Both proved very popular, and I really look forward to trying The Jerbiton Summit myself next year. You can read the background for it here.
My game in this three hour slot was based on a real historical event from 1173: The Battle of Fornham, which took place between the rebel forces of the Duke of Leicester and the royalist forces of Henry II under Humphrey III de Bohun and Richard de Lucy, along with the townsmen of Bury St. Edmunds and various other loyalist knights. Becky, Hugh, Tom Phil and I built the terrain and counters and miniatures, and I believe fourteen players participated in the three hour battle, which despite appearances was as much a normal Ars Magica tabletop game as it was a wargame. I think Nick’s account of Leicester’s experience sums it up nicely —
Poor Robert of Leicester – Luck/God was certainly not on his side that day! His overconfidence led him to lead a heroic charge to destroy the southern bridge (over a drainage ditch), where he was met by Reginald de Dunstanville, Earl of Cornwall. A battle ensued between the knights of Leceister and Cornwall as the Leceister knights attempted to destroy the bridge. Leciester’s knights suffered 3 casualties and took 3 Kent knights prisoner, but Robert himself was gravely wounded against the Cornish lord, who smote Robert’s head open. Eyes full of blood, Robert botched his retreat and fell from his horse. Taken prisoner by Cornwall, who took him bound to the Priory, he remained there for the rest of the battle. His leaderless knights were overwhelmed by the Royalists, and Cornwall impaled Robert on a red hot poker and hung him from the Priory walls, as a warning to all other godless rebels 😉
Rather more happened than Nick describes, but that was perhaps the deciding moment of the battle, when the dice proved completely against him. I wrote another blog post describing what happened overall from each players perspective, and have asked them to email me accounts of the battle as it was so amusing. Here is a shot of the game in progress, as a vision of Saint Dympna causes many men to fall to their knees (the upside down tiles). Anyway a full report will follow!
I must say it was huge amounts of effort to put this game together, but I thought it thoroughly worth it. Utterly chaotic, it really did serve to teach me quite a bit about why Leicester probably lost on the day, and showed standard Ars Magica 5th edition group combat rules can easily handle huge field battles, not just skirmishes, without using the character centered more narrative Lords of Men rules which are still great for typical tabletop play. iN a sense this was coming full circle for me because we playtested the 5th edition group combat rules using the Battle of Fornham as a scenario (part thereof, on a much smaller scale) about a decade ago. Yes, playtesters really do play test rules, despite authors occasional doubts! 😉
After Fornham it was the always popular raffle, and the Meet the Authors session. The Raffle prizes this year included lovely prizes supplied by Atlas Games and by Sub Rosa magazine. If you play Ars and don’t already subscribe to Sub Rosa you really should consider it now, especially as it is a .pdf download so you can do it immediately! The Raffle raised £201 for good causes in the end, plus a small amount more on Sunday I have yet to count. 🙂
A popular new innovation this year was a deal with Charlie’s Chip Shop arranged by Andrew my co-host, who took orders and then went down and collected the food so much less gaming was missed than in previous years and we could move straight on to the evening session, where The Unquiet Grave by Leif, A Walk in the Woods by Hakon and The Shadow Over Carlisle by Lloyd were run. I chose not to play in this slot as I was to be honest utterly exhausted, but it worth noting that every session of the weekend (apart from the Friday evening social and the big freeform one) had at least three games running and no one went without a game who wanted to play. In fact we had spare slots in some games, but none so low as to prevent them running, though we did not get round to running Nathan Hook’s excellent To Strive… this year as we had so many freeforms on offer in the end. Note for delegates in future years – please tell me about your game running plans earlier! Tom & Lloyd and myself each ran two games each, but many delegates offered a game and all three of us would have been happy to run less games and let others act as Storyguides. 🙂 I ran games with 14 and 9 players, without a beta storyguide to help out in others, and as GT grows in popularity we need more games. I’d rather have too much on offer than too little, and if a game has to be dropped because we can’t get the players then it can always be run in later years, as has been shown by games like the Tribunal of the Borders which Mark wrote for last year but finally ran this year to great praise. Next year I think we will introduce a game bidding system, by which potential GM’s will be invited to submit pitches much earlier, and we will have even more games on offer, so some can be smaller and less wearying for the poor harassed storyguides.
BY the time we closed the venue for the night I was utterly exhausted and ready for my bed, but I ended up doing game prep for the morning and then wandering down to meet a few delegates at the Bon Appetit 99p cafe for breakfast.
Sunday we opened at 10am and ran through till close at 4pm, and there were three games in this session. One was absolutely fascinating – Tom Nowell came up with the idea of running a game with the players as Amazon sorceresses from Rival Magics. Again I never got to play, but I heard good things and it was nice to see some of the Rivals get their day in the sun. I’d like ot hear more about how this game went. 🙂 Lloyd heroically stepped forward again to run Mystery Playtest 3 .
My last game of the weekend was a little unusual, in that written originally for 8 players (!) I ended up with 9 and had to turn down two more potential players on the morning (they did get to join another game though.) Lost in the Wash once again returned to the pre-1220 period, this time 1217, and my love of East Anglia. It was October 1217, Louis of France has seized the throne and King John was at Lynn desperate to reach loyal allies at Newark, a few days travel away, as the French and Baron’s armies approached. Waking up feverish after a heavy meal of peaches, he gathered together all the people he could trust, and with eight companions set out across The Fens carrying the Crown Jewels of England in their saddle bags. Every student of English history knows what happened next, but you should not believe everything you read in the chronicles… The players were delightful for this game, and it resolved really well at the end just in time for the mad clear up session.
After an evening with the Norwegian delegates I crawled in to my bed last night utterly shattered, but I had a wonderful weekend, saw some outstanding character roleplaying and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Huge thanks are due to so many people that I have posted a Credits file to the GT list, but especial thanks ot Andrew Oakley who as co-host made my ever more ambitious plans possible, and whose magnificent organisation of many aspects of the project meant that everything feel perfectly in to place.
We have not yet confirmed a date or location for 2013, but the default will be Cheltenham again, on the weekend of 16th to 18th August. Don’t make hard plans until it si all confirmed yet, as Cambridge or Trondheim, Norway may yet turn out to be the venue and the date will change then!
Thank you to all the lovely people who attended.
I’ll leave you with a photo of the ever-cool Nick as a wild Scottish magus…
It was a roaring success, at least from my perspective. Now have some Ars Magica books, next step find some players 🙂