"And sometimes he's so nameless"

Report from the Grand Tribunal of Stonehenge: Ars Magica UK convention 2010

Posted in Games, Reviews and Past Events by Chris Jensen Romer on August 25, 2010

OK, it’s all over. I am just working out how many hours went in to organising  it all: at least 70, as the Cheltenham con is not part of a larger event, so I end up doing pretty much everything. Still it was worth it just to meet some lovely folks, and spend a weekend dedicated to one of my favourite roleplaying games.

For anyone reading this who does not really know me well, Ars Magica is a roleplaying game set in 13th century Europe, as it was believed to be. Dragons live in the mountains, wizards study in lonely towers, and faeries haunt the forests. It’s not a computer game — it is a game played like Dungeons & Dragons by people with pencils, paper and funny shaped dice.  This was the fourth annual Ars Magica convention here in the UK; I ran the first two, Neil and Sheila ran last years in Cambridge and will host the event in 2011, and there have been three now in the US as well, held the same weekend. This was the largest so far: a total of 37 people being at at least some of the event, though not all were gamers, a few were guests or friends dropping in to say hi!

Woodcut of the freeform players by Pitt Murmann

Woodcut of the freeform players by Pitt Murmann

The venue is great, and usually very busy with community events and classes, so we were lucky to get it for a whole day and Sunday morning.

We opened on Friday with a very cheap meal at the Happy Garden restaurant, a local Chinese. It was great to gather 24 people together and just chat, and enjoy relaxing. For the Norwegian contingent  it was probably a much needed rest. Of course the day started much earlier for me and Becky, dashing around meeting delegates, and doing all kinds of preparation work — but that’s what happens when you host!

After the meal we made our way to The Cotswolds Pub where David Sivier gave an excellent paper on Fairy Beliefs in the 13th century & beyond. I learned quite a bit – I was not aware that changelings did not appear till the 16th century – up till then the fairies just left a wooden image in the place of kidnapped folks. The bit about the bloke who interrupted the fairy attempt to steal his wife and kept the captured wooden simulacra they had planned to leave as a useful bit of furniture made me laugh! I noted a number of similarities in the narratives with my recent work on poltergeists, and others had many questions for David who came all the way from Bristol to give the talk. Thanks Dave, and a belated happy birthday mate! (Same day as mine, the 23rd August). I was too tired to say much,a nd fighting sleep – because I was exhausted, but I hope Dave posts it somewhere on the web!

After that people just chatted or played card or board games – it was one o clock before people departed for their digs, even Lisa (who does not game) staying till the end, and I got home to find a problem with both my keyboard and printer, so much later before I finally managed to grab some much needed sleep. The gas was off: we have had a few leaks in the street recently – and it was morning before I could grab a quick wash and run down to open up the venue, Gas Green community centre. It’s a great venue, with two generous sized halls, a few rooms upstairs and a kitchen area, and served our needs well.

The guests were rather late this year, despite good weather; we were due to begin games at ten, but it took till eleven fr most people to gather, so we proceeded straight to the freeform, Puck’s Dell. I had worked rather frantically to complete this in time, and while it ended up with 23 players rather thn the planned 25, it was I think a success. Well at least most of the feedback I got was very positive. The sight of 20+ people dressed up running around scheming, dealing, plotting and manipulating each other was really entertaining, though as I was the only referee I was rather busy, and utterly exhausted by the end, where many true identities became apparent – think of it as As You Like It meets Ars Magica and you get the atmosphere and a rough sense of what it was about.  It is impossible to single out any one player, but it was amazing how Andrew O. composed an eight line song and melody (with help from Taryn) and got everyone to perform it while also trying to get his non-existent covenfolk (recently changed back from mice) to meet the many demands of magi and companions, and I think Nick Galaxy was absolutely amazing as Lugh the Apprentice!  Lloyd however was disappointed that his character the priest Father Gerard did not get to conduct any marriages, a fact given the plot I find astonishing, but then again he did not get to conduct any funerals – the only “death” was Sir Pharisee, turned in to a collection of sticks and flowers.  Barrie looked awesome as Geron, and Black Tom was also a lot of fun to watch scheming. However really I saw very little of the game; though the fireworks between Kirstie and Andrew Sceats characters at the end was really fun!

Freeform game at Grand Tribunal 2010

Freeform game at Grand Tribunal 2010

For those who don’t know what a freeform is: it’s a bit like a huge murder mystery game, where everyone is given a character sheet with what they know about their characters and then has objectives to meet. It is hard to explain, and for a lot of our players was the first time they had tried it, but they really got in to it,and Daniel Vandenburg and Ivan really worked hard making tabards and stuff, and were excellent fun throughout.

Anyhow, after the freeform I was utterly exhausted, but it was straight in to games. Tom Nowell ran a mystery playtest, the first of three over the weekend, for Atlas Games by special permission of line Editor David Chart, with the players signing Non-Disclosure Agreements.  This was part of a book still “in production” for Ars Magica, so I can’t say anything at all about the session (or the other two) but hopefully the feedback provided will prove useful for the authors.

Meanwhile Becky and  I played Leif Olav Josang’s The Unquiet Grave,  a wonderfully written game for grogs, with elements of low humour and high adventure, set in 13th century York (which happens to be where our Tuesday night saga is also set). Its a great adventure, possibly the best I have played for Ars Magica, highly recommended. Leif should publish it on the Special Ops Atlas Games site or in the Sub Rosa fanzine. Becky had never played Ars Magica before, and had only roleplayed twice, but she enjoyed herself too.

At the same time Nick Galaxy ran the entire Fourth Crusade, including the sieges of Zara and Constantinople, in just four hours.   only caught glimpses of it, but it looked great, and I heard the row between the Doge Dandolo and Boniface and things seemed to pan out as they did historically, except Zara surrendered and was spared sacking. I wish I could have played that as well; but we had to reshuffle time slots, so I missed out. I must ask Nick to let me see the character sheets though, because it looked like an incredible game, and because I am one of the authors of the latest Ars Magica supplement The Sundered Eagle which covers Constantinople and the Tribunal of Thebes, and indeed wrote the “modern” history bit.

The Sundered Eagle

The Sundered Eagle - out soon!

I’m going to have to speed up or this will be immensely long; the evening saw only one game run, as Lloyd wanted more time to prep hs mystery playtest. I think a boardgame was played, but I wandered off to get food, letting Tom Nowell take my place in Andrew Sceats’  The Archmage is Busy; he had just run a session and I felt he ought to be allowed to play because he could not make the Sunday morning.  I think it was run with 3rd edition rules, and apparently it was a fantastic scenario – maybe someone can write a review, without too many spoilers as I hope to play it in the future?

I got to relax a bit in the evening and chat freeforms with Mark Steedman, games with the Mark S and Ars writing with Mark Lawford.  Then it was home fr a much needed shower, and last minute prep for Sunday! The Author’s panel featured Neil, Sheila Mark Lawford and myself, and we read a message from David Chart where many forthcoming releases were discussed or hinted at – but no we can’t tell you, yoiu had to be there! Thanks to Lloyd, Mark S and Andrew O. we managed  link up with Caifornia, and chatted to folks at the Grand Tribiunal US event briefly before we lost connection I think, but that was fun too, and the raffles raised £187 for our three charities, which was amazing. :)

Sunday opened promptly, and all the remaining delegates (bar Sheila who was off to church) were in a game; well Becky watched mine. Two were Mystery Playtests, one run by Kev Sides, one by Lloyd so I can’t say anything about them as they are covered by the NDA. I myself ran Twilight Fades - a very unusual Ars Magica game, in that it was set in Summer 2010 with four bored eleven year olds banned from TV and trying to find something to do in a  rural Suffolk village – but by the end it was classic Ars Magica, kinda, sorta! I really enjoyed running it – excellent performances all round, Barrie James and Barry Cowden were hilarious, Mark Lawford somehow kept them moving and was the sensible one but a pleasure to play with, and Daniel Vandenberg’s Matilda was priceless —  “I want to be a Ballerina!” Well soon she was a ballista – not quite what she had in mind! :)

And then it was one o clock, all too soon, and time for everyone to go home. Not that everyone did – for many it was straight down to Wetherspoons for the Flying Ship Design contest! I had to pop up to meet JK at the Queen’s Hotel, but caught them later, and that evening was treated to a lovely birthday lunch by Leif, Karl and anders before they set off home for Norway in the morning.

Despite being utterly exhausted I enjoyed a wonderful weekend, and will do it all again in 2012! next year Neil and Sheila are hosting again, and I hope to make it, finances permitting.

So how did it go? Really well I think. I was shattered for my birthday on Monday – but we had fun, and what was noticeable this year was how much the emphasis was on grogs and non-magi characters. Puck’s Dell has Grogs, Nobles, Magi, Apprentices, Magical People/Faeries and Covenfolk as the five types of character – I hope all were equally fun to play. Twilight Fades, The Archmage is Busy and The Unquiet Grave all emphasized grogs. It just goes to show what you can do with the Ars Magica setting, even without your magus in the limelight, and how much potential troupe play has.

Apologies to anyone I have not name-checked in this brief run through — it was lovely to meet you all. I have to dash, but see you all again in 2012. Next year Neil and Sheila are hosting again, in Cambridge, as part of the Consternation con.

cj x

Grand Tribunal is held by kind permission of Atlas Games. “Grand Tribunal” and the “Grand Tribunal” logo are trademarks of Trident, Inc. d/b/a Atlas Games, used with permission.

From Ricall to York: Our New Ars Magica Saga Starts

Posted in Games, History, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life by Chris Jensen Romer on January 6, 2010

A few days ago Tom and I were chatting about how much fun it would be to start a new Ars Magica roleplaying game saga.  So there being a CJ involved, this happened, and quickly. Tom, Ed and I discussed the setting and decided on the Stonehenge Tribunal (roughly speaking England & Wales) and as I have long wanted to do a game which covers the Angevin/Plantagenets from Henry II through Richard, John and Henry III we decided on a start date of 1160, and a fast saga with a few years between stories. The changing of the seasons and usurpation seemed appropriate themes, and we therefore decided to go for the players as new magi arriving at a Winter covenant that had declined in to a crumbling wreck. Tom wanted to set the saga in York, and so the stage was set.

The first real issue was whether to use the setting published already in David Chart’s excellent 4th edition Tribunal book, Heirs to Merlin. We decided not to, but instead created our own covenants, simply because the players were all so familair with Blackthorn, Voluntas, etc, etc and therefore we thought it would be fun to do something different. We created a number of covennats – the actual method used I shall not discuss just yet, in case the players (or their characters) work it out in the course of the saga.

The players covenant was named Domus Alba Rosa, hopefully close to the Latin for the House of the White Rose, and attached to St. Peter’s school in York, a real urban school founded back in the Dark Ages and still going strong today.  The physical setting was two townhouses over a set of Roman catacombs in Micklegate, with a near by hostelry the Blue Boar as a hang-out for grogs and consortes and the schoolroom across the river near th Minster. As Tom and I will both be running adventures, we spent a lot of time discussing the details  – a statue of Mithras was found near here, so we decided there must be a Mithraeum, and then the Legion of Mithras I had detailed in The Mysteries Revised Edition seemed a sensible theme for the covenant (though we had other themes we wanted to include as well form our covenant design ideas).

I created the covenant using 600 build points and Covenants: medium power as long in decline. Tom did a splendid job on sorting out what the vis sources are, so I concentrated on books, and the mechanics, before creating the personalities. Here are my notes —

Magi Domus Rosa Alba

The Magi of the House of the White Rose, York

The once great covenant has now fallen in to ruin and dilapidation. While the townhouses remain structurally sound, warm and comfortable and the catacombs habitable, age has wreathed the corridors in cobwebs, and smoke has long since darkened the diamond pains of glass. Across the river the School hall is maintained better, but even there the dust of centuries has gathered on the wooden benches of the schoolroom high above the shops, and the wooden steps up creak ominously under the weight of the masters.

The Library high in a well tarred and isolated attic of Crosskeys House has the books piled on tables, but they are few compared with days past. Every year visitors borrow books to aid them in some heroic quest, and every year they take vis and disappear off to fight terrible foes of the Order surely it would be churlish to ask them to replace it? Most of the resources appear to have vanished to other Covenants, even other Tribunals. Meanwhile the magi have forgotten about glory: their grogs no longer have weaponry, or armour, and are little more than the best brawlers in the Blue Boar Tavern, and the school is utterly neglected, save by Thomas, who dreams of a day when the Covenant will again be a force to be reckoned with.

There are currently (1160) three magi at the Covenant – Henri the Quaesitor, the long term visitor Leona of Bjornaer, and the Jerbiton Archmagus Helena Mavrocatalon, a Byzantine nobleman/woman who has lived in the Tribunal for over 80 years, and speaks fluent English when the mood takes him/her.

Her Eminence Helena Mavrocatalon Constantinopolis, Imperatrix Rosa Alba, Archmaga Jerbiton, Poetess, Warrior, Hoplite, Heroine, and Defender of the Order.

Helena as we shall call her for short (but NEVER make this error) is a 138 year old Byzantine nobleman, of an illustrious family, closely related to the current Emperor of the Romans, Manuel I Kommenos –  these are the Byzantine Greeks in Constantinople in case anyone is confused! As such she adopts imperial affectations, and is incredibly vain, effete, and always heavily made up with a ridiculous wig and vast amounts of jewellery. Despite all these things, she is still quite clearly male, and following a Twilight episode decades ago can never change her gender, or have it changed, by magic.

Eight decades ago she arrived in York, and made quite a splash at her first Tribunal, soon becoming deeply involved in Tribunal politics. Her exquisite manners, fawning catamites and eunuchs and incredible arrogance soon made an impact: everyone in the Tribunal knows he is a super-bitch beyond compare, but a bitch who throws the most incredible orgies, and whose decadence is far beyond anything the Catholic Church could ever stomach. Several Archbishops of York condemned her from the Minster pulpit: she laughed at them, and her fabulous wealth and insatiable desire for trinkets and luxuries soon swung the citizens behind this astonishing creature. Even today the Masters of every Guild would come to her immediately if she called upon them – but as he has not been twenty years dead as far as they know, they are unlikely to do so.

Her “death” was nothing to do with hiding her longevity from the mundanes, or mortals as she disparagingly calls them, of York.  Whatever her reason, her seclusion has been long, but not uneventful. A skilled political player, a terrible foe, and a sworn defender of the Order of Hermes,  her anger is terrible, her vengeance burns, and those she classes as enemies rarely live to the next Tribunal. Many regard her as a vain arrogant transvestite  maniac, but any brave enough to say so will die in a Wizard’s War pursued with incredible energy. She has slain eight magi in justly declared Wizard Wars: the furthest was in the Rhine Tribunal, and mocked her in a drunken after dinner conversation in his home covenant.

Yet there is not a Hoplite in the Tribunal who would not spring instantly to her defence, or unquestioningly follow her orders. Only Flavius, the Exarch of Tremere at Mons Castrum may have more influence over the loyal Hoplites. She is the Persian of Mithras, Commander of the Legion in the Tribunal, and a legend among them. She always affects silver robes or dresses prominently displaying the sign of Taurus, and her influence stretches even beyond the Tribunal borders – wherever there are Hoplites, she has friends. It is rumoured her own House, Jerbiton, are far less enamoured of her though, and the dislike extends to her loathing for the covenant of Aedis Rex, even redcaps from that covenant being received with scorn and treated with the very barest of courtesies required by the Order.

She knows many secrets though, and uses them well, her network of spies and agents rival those of any Tytalus.

Leona of Bjornaer, Aged 59.

If anyone rivals Helena (but don’t call her that) in regal arrogance, pride and deadly contempt for fools, it is Leona of Bjornaer.  She is a Captain of Mithras, and does not care who knows it – and she has been here four years on her Mystery Cult’s business, guarding the Mithraeum, and  seeking mysteries of Constantine. She originates from the Levant, and is half-Arab, half crusader but unlike Helena does not respond well to questions about her parentage – it is popularly rumoured she is the daughter of a King though. No one can upstage her, talk down to her, or try to control her – except Helena. Everyone thought the two maga would hate each other – instead they have become incredible friends.

Her religion remains a mystery, and yet she is known to have a sympathy for the Jews of York, leading some to wonder if she may be a secret Heathen. No one has ever seen her in church, but no one has ever been foolish enough to comment (Helena does not go either, being of the Orthodox Christian rite).

Whatever Leona’s business in the Tribunal, she is very discreet, but has on several occasions been spotted padding silently around the alleys in the moonlight. The Archbishop of York has heard stories of a lion in the city, and they have been so persistent he has offered a reward t anyone who can capture the beast for his planned menagerie – something which Leona derives much amusement from.

A silent, merciless killer who speaks no English, she has little time for the covenfolk and less for the farmers whose sheep she preys upon… Don’t mess with her, or you might perish.

Henri the Quaesitor, aged 63

Henri has been at the covenant since his childhood, and was the apprentice of Green Stephen, a Bonisagus with a research interest in faerie matters who died mysteriously on a Christmas night some fifty winters ago. Henri himself was adopted by Petros the Just, a Guernicus Quaesitor, and served his final two seasons of apprenticeship with Petros before Gauntleting in that House. He has a bad reputation as poorly trained throughout House Guernicus, and is widely believed to be incompetent. Selected as an emissary to the Loch Leglean Tribunal he was effectively banished there for three terms of seven years, and on his return he became something of a recluse, fearing being sent abroad once again as an embarrassment to his House. No one asks him to defend their case, and no one seeks his counsel on legal matters.  His sole duty is approving Hoplites adventures, and dealing with te administration and paperwork for the Legion on behalf of Helena who treats him like an unpaid skivvy. He is well known as an incompetent yes-man, and even within the Legion of Mithras has never advanced beyond the second rank – a Bride, he wears the Green cloak and silver lantern broach to display his status as an investigator of the Legion.

Those who know him well know that the Covevant’s school and Scriptorium would never run without his careful attention, and that really he is the effective working member of the covenant, though he would never dare says so It was he who invited the magi to come to Domus Rosa Alba, presumably on behalf of Helena and Leona, as he would never presume to do anything without their command.

Next up we needed the other covenants, so I wrote them up based on Ed and Tom’s notes.

Covenants of the Stonehenge Tribunal

Stonehenge has a fairly isolationist tradition, and some of the Covenants are not overly sociable, Many do not welcome visitors, and even trade in magical resources is relatively uncommon. The more civilised (read Southern English and Yorkshire) covenants often look to the Normandy Tribunal for support and visitors.  This insular aspect to life in the Tribunal is reflected in the Tradition that only two magi from each Covenant are invited to attend each Tribunal, but they of course carry the sigils of the others. Any magi may attend f they so wish, against this tradition, but it is considered rude and unnecessary. Politics revolve around maintaining the status quo, and  are positively sleepy by other Tribunal’s standards, with “minding your own business” being considered a high virtue here.

Aedis Rex: Bury St Edmunds –  in the shadow of the Great Abbey, visitors should enquire at the Prior’s House, and make the sign of Intellego. Home to three Jerbiton Magi, a Quaesitor and two Redcaps.. Non-Gentle Gifted magi should take lodgings outside the town and send a messenger instead. Said to have the greatest library in the Tribunal of books on Abilities, and known to be a centre for the Pythagorean mysteries, which welcomes students who can pass the examinations. Rufus of Nantwich leads the magi here, and is a master of Disputatio, that is public debates. He engages in lengthy correspondence with magi all over the Tribunal, and is always willing to assist young magi working on research projects.

Atrium Mercatus – Londinium – With a Gifted Mercere, four Redcaps, a Quaesitor, two Jerbiton, two Bonisagus, two Ex Miscellanea and three Verditius, this is the site of the Mercer House for the area. Said to offer excellent hospitality, good opportunities for visiting the fleshpots of London and yet a strangely warm and familial welcome to members of the Order. Vis and potent magic items can be purchased or be exchanged here at better rates than the rest of the Tribunal offers. Tribunal Meetings are held here, deep within the Dominion aura of the city, rather than as in other Tribunal’s at the Praeco’s home.The actual Mercer House is a rambling house in the centre of the city, filled with young apprentices: it is said that Atrium Mercatus takes more apprentices than anywhere else, perhaps because of the Orphanage they run which proves a useful source of Gifted kids.

Cad Gadu, Domus Magna of House Ex Miscellanea, on Lake Bala, North Wales. Home to many Ex Miscellanea magi, and two redcaps. No one not invited can find the magical glass island upon which the covenant stands, which must be situated in a regio? Non Ex Miscellanea are not welcomed here, though Redcaps may visit freely, and many Merinita and Bjornaer have been invited to attend specific meetings. By tradition any visitor who has genuine business with the Primus Ex Miscellanea (currently Immanola)  may  travel to Pont Mwnwgl-y- llyn and blow the horn suspended from the hazel tree there to summon Immanola to a meeting in London at Atrium Mercatus that same day! The secrecy of the covenant breeds suspicion, as does the many deaths reported among its members.

Sagittarii: West Wales – Criamon clutch set in Egryn, West Wales. If you are not a Criamon you don’t know any more about this place. If you are you might. The clutch has five members, and is one of the largest Criamon centres in Northern Europe.  No one messes with them, as they have a reputation for extremely lethal defence of their vis sources and privacy, and a House Criamon Quaesitor (who may be unique in the whole Order in that capacity) is one of the five inhabitants: he is known to be extremely good at Hermetic Law. Three decades ago Mons Castrum believing they may have Diedne links declared Wizards War against the inhabitants, and lost three magi without coming close to the valley where they dwell. The surviving attackers were invited in, shown around, and left their wounds tended and their fears of Diedne influence dispelled, but word spread their were worse horrors defending this place. Many believe they have tamed a dragon, but the magi of Mons Castrum never broke their oath of silence about what they saw there that they swore to be allowed to concede the Wizard’s War and depart in peace..

The Wild Woods – Forest of Dean – home to an exiled Rhine Ex Miscellanea and several natives of that tradition, as well as two Merinita, Joanna Silvae a young maga is the person visitors usually deal with. Uninterested in politics, they welcome vis trade and are said to have some curious spells and magic items they will trade lab texts for; but the focus on Herbam magic leaves many magi not willing to make the effort. They are said to have shaped the very woods to serve their needs, and live lives of idle pleasure, but they politely resist any attempt to make them participate in the Tribunal, and les politely throw out any who attempt to reduce their hard won independence. Recently it was rumoured they approached the Tribunal of Novgorod asking to be accepted as a covenant of that Tribunal, but the truth of the rumour is unknown.

Heremus: Cumbria – somewhere in the wasteland, a mixed covenant.  Home to several Ex Miscellanea, a Flambeau and four Bjornaer magi, but governed by a Tytalus, Hugh, who is said to be utterly mad. The Loch Leglean Tribunal occasionally accuses them of raiding across the borders, but they have plenty of vis so it is hard to see why they would bother. They are on excellent terms with the Chapel of the Green Knight (see next entry). The actual position of the covenant seems to be elusive, and finding them is a problem to all but the most experienced redcaps. They have some long term plan which is little known to outsiders but involves heroic effort.

Basilicola Equites Viridis: Wirral – Covenant of the Chapel of the Green Knight – a legendary location, home to many members of House Tytalus, Jerbiton, Merinita and  Flambeau. The Knights loathe the Tremere of Mons Castrum with a passion, but are rumoured to have upset Sagittarii recently by adopting a Criamon exiled from there in to their fellowship. Many have wondered what the Criamon maga did to get herself expelled: to get chucked out of House Criamon you must be REALLY weird.

Eruditio Palus – Somerset Marshes, near Glastonbury – a few level-headed mages try to gather vis and cut through the mysticism surrounding Glastonbury. Home to the legendary monk and cartographer Egbert, known for his lewd dancing which led to his expulsion form his monastery. Several Bjornaer and Bonisagi make their home here, and they are said to have many excellent books on the Arts and welcome visitors who are willing to risk catching swamp ague. There are always a Quaesitor based here, though why no one can say, as it is little involved in politics, mundane or Hermetic.

Mons Castrum Shropshire, Bridgnorth – in the caves underneath Bridgnorth’s table mountain, a warren of wizards keep their fortress ready. Home to the Tremere Exarch Flavius and five followers (this is a highly defensible position) plus a couple of martial-minded Flambeau associates. Flavius is Praeco by virtue of being the oldest magi in the Tribunal – he is 136 years of age in 1160, and still capable of riding his magical steed which is said to be able to run upon the winds, and a fearsome warrior and an even more fearsome master of Rego magics.

Alba Rosa – Your covenant. The name means White Rose.

Woodpecker covenant, on the North Yorkshire Moors so-called as they started off “guests” of Walter l’Espec aka “Walter the Woodpecker”, founder of Helmsley castle in 1120, Rievaulx abbey (2 miles away, a major Cistercian place with a fine wool produce and a forge) and Kirkham Priory (Augustinian). This wealthy and ambitious builder and generous philanthropist is clearly too good for mages to pass up. He was raised up by Henry I, controlled Northern England for a few years with Eustace FitzJohn At this point the castle is made of wood (and the town is called “Hamlake”) and owned by Walter’s sister, Adelina and her husband Peter de Roos..

Medicata Insula: Lindisfarne – Holy Island covenant, a mixed group of mages who live in a high Dominion aura, yet somehow cope. Physically isolated by both tide and distance, they rarely turn up to Tribunal meetings. A Bonisagus maga called Isabella who lives here is known to be an expert on Hedge Magic traditions of the Order, and little liked by the rest of the covenant. Why she stays no one knows.

Well we only had four days from deciding to play the game, to actually starting the first session, so we have been working very fast, but I think we have a fair start here which should give us a few months play potential at least.So far Luke has designed his Mythic Companion, a Faerie Doctor called Sam, Kev played Colt the Smith his Verditius magi and Lloyd’s 22 year old Magister in Artibus has turned his back on Oxford University to become a school master at St. Peter’s York.  Lloyd has said he will write the first session up, so I will doubtless put that on my blog as well, but so far it’s been a lot of fun and they have only just arrived at the covenant! I’ll update from time to time with notes on how the game is going – gaming si an important part of my life, and I rarely talk about my rpg games here, but I guess a few of my fellow gamers might be amused or find something useful.

Oh I did a player handout – as the game opened on Christmas Day 1160 with the character’s trudging through the snow, I gave them a quick historical introduction to major events of that year…

The Year 1160

The Royal Family

The year just ending has been a peaceful one in Stonehenge. King Henry II is married to the former wife of his greatest enemy, Louis of France.  The beautiful Eleanor of Aquitaine is now 38 years old, but eight years ago to everyone’s amazement following the annulment to of her former marriage she ran away with King Henry. Their first child William died a few years ago, aged three, but they have three healthy sons – Henry aged seven, Richard aged three and Geoffrey aged two, as well as a four year old daughter, Matilda.

This year King Louis of France’s second wife (the one who replaced Eleanor) Constance of Castille died in October, giving birth to a daughter, Alys. She already had a child with Louis, the three year old Margaret of France, and that child is in the care of King Henry and Queen Eleanor, who promptly declare her engagement to their eldest living son, Henry. King Louis is furious, and marries Adele of Champagne almost as soon as his former wife is buried, still desperately hoping for a male heir. At the moment Young Henry of England (the four year old) may inherit France if King Louis dies!

War with France

In November the three year old Margaret f France was married to Young Henry (aged seven), with the Papal Legates Cardinal Willaim of Pavia and Cardinal Henry of Pisa speaking their vows for them, at a castle in Germany. Immediately the Templar held castle of Gisors which was due to be a wedding present had to be surrendered by France to the English King, and Count Theobald of Champagne (Louis’ new father in law) and King Louis of France started to strengthen their castles and prepare for war at Castle Chaumont.  King Henry then arrived with his army and the French nobles fled, so that castle too falls to the English. Further war between the Angevin Empire and France is now inevitable, despite, indeed because, of the royal marriage of the infants which may one day unite the two thrones.

Two Popes?

The death of Pope Adrian (an Englishman) leads to a strange situation: the English and French cardinals elect Alexander as Pope, but the German Cardinals claim their candidate Octavian won. There are now two Popes, both of whom claim to rule the Church. In England and Wales Alexander is considered the legitimate Pope, buit in Rome cardinals ort ricval factions still fight on the streets.

Another School Founded

Derby, England sees a new school founded, yet another  rival to St Peters, York by Walkelin of Derby. There are just too many schools these days, where will all the school children be found to fill them?

Raynald of Chatillion captured by Saracens

The Crusader Lord, Prince of Antioch by marriage to Constance of Antioch has been captured by the Saracens. Few mourn: four years ago he raided Cyprus, and when the Patriarch of Antioch (a leader of the Orthodox Church and great holy man) condem3ned this attack on the Christian island, Raynald had him seized, stripped naked, covered in honey, and left in the burning sun on top of the citadel. When the Patriarch was released, he collapsed in exhaustion and agreed to finance Raynald’s expedition against Cyprus. It was during a raid against the Saracens that Raynald was caught – they are said to be holding him prisoner in a  dungeon,

War in Italy

Holy Roman Emperor (& King of the Germans) Frederick Barbarossa takes Crema ,Italy, following a cruel siege, as part of his campaign against the independent Italian city-states.

I might write one of these for the 1220’s sometime as well, as that could be handy for a lot of Ars Magica sagas. Sadly Tom who was the creator of a good half of this could not make the first session, owing to snow, but he will be at next week’s game, when the character’s really get to know their new home :)

Review of wargaming rules; De Bellis Antiquitas Second Edition

Posted in Games, Reviews and Past Events by Chris Jensen Romer on November 27, 2009

And now for something completely different…

So far my reviews   have concentrated on roleplaying products,but back in the seventies I actually entered the hobby as a young but enthusiastic historical wargamer. I played 25mm Napoleonics, 15mm Dark Ages, 20mm WW2 and 1/3000 scale naval battles and 1/300 scale microtank battles. In short, my wargaming experience was extensive and varied.

The roleplaying hobby was born out of wargaming, via the publication of TSR of Chainmail, which became eventually via a fantasy supplement Dungeons and Dragons. Yet surprisingly few contemporary roleplayers seem to have come from the world of miniatures wargames – my recent ‘how did you get in to roleplaying?’ poll showed it is a distinct minority these days. The old school wargamers turned roleplayers reckon we can tell who was a wargamer first, but it would be a shame not to try and reverse the tredn, and for a few roleplayers to try wargaming.

One of the biggest problems facing anyone interested in wargaming is assembling an army. Firstly however you need to choose your rules,and one of the most popular today, with base sizes shared with many other sets of rules, is De Bellis Antiquitatis, known as DBA for short.

The rules are very short – 10 pages in total of actual playing rules, with only two charts and one set of factors which are referred to once the game starts. This simplicity is actually their beauty – it allows you to concentrate on generalship rather than esoteric factor calculation, or extensive morale rules. However the real beauty of DBA is that an army is always 12 bases, each of which has two or three figures on it – the extremes are one figure for a chariot, up to maybe 7 for a Horde. Armies therefore require about 50 models, which in 15mm scale mean you can comfortably amass two armies for under $30, in lead figures! Even 25mm figures are affordable,and the rules cover 5mm, 15mm and 20/25mmm figure scales with equal ease. You can easily dispense with minatures altogether, and simply cut cardboard based tothe shapes required. For my playtest I bought, based and painted two armies of the period of the Chariot era, (total cost from Essex Miniatures including postage and packing £16.50), and painted and based them.

Terrain was improvised with a cloth, books and a hastily built but attractive cardboard town, and some simple marshes, rivers and roads made from cardboard and felt tips. When I have time I will develop the terrain and make it attractive rather than functional! :)

OK, the next great thing about the rules – the playing area. the game in 15mmm plays on a 2′ square area (600mm), and in 25mm on a 3′ square area (900mm square). Average move distances are 2″ for infantry off road (or 5cm if using metric) and 3″ for light troops (75mm) and a speedy 4″ (10cm) for light chariots going at full whack! The nice thing here is that the playing area is small enough, and the armies ditto, for almost anyone to find space to play. I played on one end of my coffee table, the remaining two thirds of which was strewn with rpg stuff! :)

Next up – because you are moving just 12 bases, the games zips along. There are no fiddly tiny tactical manouvres, as units can change facing etc, to respond. The central idea of the game is that command and control of ancient units was limited, and that basically all armies troops are pretty similar, but the army varies by composition and generalship. Each bound (turn) the player rolls a D6, and has that many pips. Moving a unit, or a group of units in base to base contact, costs one pip from his available supply. I was sceptical about this at first, but in fact it lead to some very exciting situations – Canaanite Chariots bearing down on my troops,and me with no idea if my general would get orders to them in time to retreat across the river and gain a defensive advantage! (In fact I rolled a 5, and got my infantry across, but it turned out the river was so shallow based on the river depth roll it gave me no tactical advantage, and meanwhile my light troops were overwhelmed by the Canaanites and slaughtered in a marsh which dominated the centre of the battlefield – but that is another story!)

The rules are slightly complicated by the fact that if your general is over 6″ away and out of site, or over 12″ away, then you must pay two ‘pip’ off your available moves to move that unit. There are rules which cover effects of terrain, useful tactics like placing Psiloi (skirmishers) in support of Auxilia (regular infantry), the adverse effects of Elephants on cavalry, Scythed Chariots, Light Chariots, Heavy Chariots (inferior to Light Chariots in my opinion), Field Artillery, Knights, varying shades of Cavalry, Camels, and loads of different types of infantry. Understanding their historical battlefield role and playing to their strengths is the key to victory – however despite a good knowledge of Ancient Warfare, my infantry army were defeated twice running by Lloyd’s Caananites.

Anyway,I have probably give you enough information to decide if you like the idea of trying a fast play (under an hour) set of miniature wargames rules which cover the period 3000BC – 1500AD, from the Dawn of History to the Renaissance. You really should play with two armies who faced each other historically, and each of the army lists has details on historical allies and enemies. The lists are also divided into five main periods, as follows –

Section One – The Chariot Era 3000BC to 500BC – 63 armies,including well knoiwn ones like the Etruscan League, Canaanites, Philistines, Hitties, Kushites, several Egyptian armies, but also more obscure ones like the Melukhkhan Indian, Later Amorites, and the Zagros and Anatolian Highlanders!

Section Two – The Classical Period, 500 BC to 476AD -84 army lists-includes usual suspects like various Greek and Roman armies, but also rareities like Ariarthid Kappadokian and Turcilingi or even Hasmonean Jewish armies, plus many from Asia, Africa and the Orient.

Section Three – The Early Medieval Period 476 to 1071AD covering all the main Dark Age cultures, and many relatively obscure ones – the list staggered me with their completeness. 79 army lists.

Section Four – The High Medieval Period rounds off the selection – covering 1071 to 1500AD with 84 lists. I have already stressed the completeness enough methinks.

The rules also include an excellent set of simple campaign rules, which I have not yet had a chance to try out, for campaigns with several players 4-8 would seem to be optimum to me, and loads of six player campaigns are suggested – sixty historical campaigns in total, each one just outlining which of the lists each player uses. Bearing in mind the rules would work just as well, but less attractively, with cardboard counters cut to th base sizes, and you could for six quid spend a happy weekend refighting almost any Ancient or Medieval campaign. The rules end with guidelines for larger battles with more units or sub-commanders.

The overall playtest was superb – despite my loss on both occasions, I thoroughly enjoyed both games, and spent a goodly while bemoaning my stupid tactical errors. The element of skill against chance seems at the moment much higher that in any other wargame sminiatures rules I have so far played under (about twenty sets, over a twenty five year period). There is a Fantasy version of the rules, Hordes of the Things, which I intend to review soon assuming time permits. For substance i give the rules a thoroughly merited 5, or 10 out of 10 for content, coverage and playability.

However… I was tempted to give the rules a one for style. Wargames rules are rarely well written – or rather they are well written, in the way a washing machines manual is well written. They set out to clearly and functionally state the rules, with no roo for ambiguity. The prose is technical, clipped, precise. All of this is true of these rules. They have a fairly jolly introduction, and some good writing. The lists and rules are fairly clear. So why a 2 for style, and my thoughts of a 1? Because the errata sheet which came with the rules took over forty minutes to transcribe in to the main rules. There are hardly any mistakes – most are minor changes in wording just to clarify the rules, and to close potential loopholes. These rules are used in Wargaming Championships and competitions, and there can be no ambiguity – unlike an rpg, there is rarely a referee to settle disputes. The result was rulebook was glossed with dozens of tiny carefully handwritten notes by yours truly, as I slowly incorporated all the errata. Whatever nice things I might have said about the rules clarity, simplicity and unambigous wording were lost in the fact I ended up with each page dotted with neat crossing outs, substitutions and marginalia. The result is probably much clearer, but revisions at this level require a new edition not really an extensive errata.

Despite this damning criticism, I loved these rules. A superb introduction to miniatures wargaming for anyone, and very highly recommended! Now if only I had held that hill, instead of falling back my archers to the cover of the warbands, and had rushed my general across, the Canaanite Chariots would have been on bad going and… Sorry -it really is that absorbing a game! :)

cj, 2004


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