Ars Magica – 30 Days of Magic Challenge

The NanoWriMo challenge happens each year and last year I wrote about 43 new spells as part of an Ars forum 2017 challenge, and I’m going to try again this year – calling it the 30 Days of Magic. Fancy eh.

This year however I know for certain that I cannot write a post every day due to work and life commitments, I have created over 30 new spells which are staggered out in blog posts over the 30 magical days. Most are variations or simple effects. So the actual goal is to write a few posts, and share the Ars related links of other contributors too.

At the wrap up I’ll link to each blog post with new spells here too like last year…


B is for Beginnings

B is for Beginnings.

Stories need to start somewhere, and getting a good beginning is important. To get a real sense of background on a story seed, here are some things to consider when a story begins:

  • Give names, and also nationalities, alliances, and consideration of the NPCs prejudice when you create them. An NPC with an odd racial or nationalistic bend can help define them.
  • Consider who the npcs are reporting to, and perhaps what is motivating them.
  • A tag line or saying can really help keep you on track when playing an npc, and remind you quickly. eg. “an elderly con-man, who fakes a hacking cough, and arthritis.” A “hulk of a man, bounded in rough armor, but a voice like a true tenor.”
  • Go digging through google images, using terms like sketch, character, or portrait to find a suitable visual representation of npcs.
  • Locations can be treated as much like Npcs as characters, particularly if they are meant to be supernatural or will feature in multiple sessions. The “disused lobby, with refuse in the lift”, or “boarded up well, surrounded by the corpses of small birds”.
  • Don’t be afraid to tweak the beginning afterward. As much as a GM’s ideas are important, the beginning ideas of players can be better, and will engage the player in the setting if they are spot on the theme.
  • Set some victory and achievement goals when the story begins. Some game systems require this, but even those which do not stipulate it can be helped when you know where the initial story should lean toward.
  • Grab maps. Many sample maps exist for isolated encounters, and tabletop rpg games can be usefully focused on a map as an element to hook the players in.
  • Draw in players with hooks dedicated for their characters. These can sometimes be sent in advance or separately from the main story threads, and pulled out when needed. If only there was time enough to run a sub-story for each PC.

Part of the Blogging A to Z initiative, is to create an A-Z list of some sort, and I’m posting what ever random thoughts pop into my head for each letter of the alphabet.

So many to do to catch-up to today’s letter!

A is for Apprentice

A is for Apprentice.

The lowly apprentice, who one day will surpass their master, but in the current day is treated as a house slave. The master’s clothing is probably never more clean, and their astrolabe never better polished. In Ars Magica stories an apprentice might be treasured as a child, or treated as currency. A lazy fifteen years are required to graduate, and to be honest I’m not surprised that most Magi in the setting have a chip on their shoulder – imagine being in study for that long without a break!

There probably needs to be more stories about failed or suspended apprenticeships in the lore. The poor apprentice is doubly cursed if the master is some commercial mogul with a bad hair piece (the TV show), or a wheezing old guy in black robes who likes to kill everybody (Star Wars). You’d think either master would have more self control.

Story ideas:

  • A Bonisagus raises a challenge to a Magi, where they wish to take the Magi’s recently found apprentice. It could start a direct confrontation, or be used as leverage for another story item which the Bonisagus actually wants.
  • …perhaps the Bonisagus above is being blackmailed by another magus, who is the actual enemy.
  • An npc apprentice is discovered near the covenant, having fled though fear. The apprentice wishes a Bonisagus at the covenant to claim him, to save him from his current master.
  • …the apprentice can sweeten the deal with his personal vis source which his master is unaware of, with 20 pawns as initial offer.
  • …the current master is also the apprentice’s father.

Part of the Blogging A to Z initiative, is to create an A-Z list of some sort, and I’m posting what ever random thoughts pop into my head for each letter of the alphabet.

A great apprentice idea for Ars Magica is the apprentice oath, by Andrew Gronosky, just so this post has something more than some passing silly thoughts.

Playing catch-up as I should have been posting 10 days ago!

The Iron GM

I’d love to try my hand at the Iron GM challenge. What is an Iron GM?

The Iron GM tournament turns adventure-making into competitive sport and rewards GMing talent with phenomenal prizes…

…GMs are randomly assigned to a table of Players. Next we reveal our three secret story ingredients.

…GMs have sixty minutes to craft adventures, placing the secret ingredients at the nucleus of their games, while Players have sixty minutes to build characters.

…However GMs are only permitted to say three words to players to guide character creation.

Its seat of the pants DM’ing an RPG. Playing at the bleeding edge for both the players and the GM, where a non participant at any point might dissolve the story. It sounds as creative and challenging as being a GM could get – Theatre Sports with dice.

I’d hazard a guess this started as a silly idea, became a bet, and has gone on to form some seriously great freeform rpg sessions. Good to see too that the games are also of limited duration, so that a story arc is assumed in what is being crafted by the 60 minutes of planning.

The SRD 3.5 rules are used as a baseline system, but honestly I think you’d be better off staying well away from the mechanical heavy stories for a challenge like this.

It would be darn tough on many levels. I’ve heard producers talk about it taking hours to construct every small 5 minute chunk of TV time, and “content creation” for a good rpg story is also a huge time sink – IF you pre-plan.

If you run seat of the pants, move the story controls into the players domain to a large degree, and nudge them to steer the story, then I think you’d have a blast watching them reconcile their choices with the outcomes.

Nice also to add an element of the BOFH in there too, so the GM becomes the malevolent storyteller which the players wish to keep out of the steering role. Oh wait – that just describes the Paranoia RPG!

This would be fun. Found via the Fear The Boot Podcast, who are certainly worth a listen for any avid gamer.

Alas the table routed

Our “game table” was routed a few months back by fear inspiring foes – work, family, life, and fatigue. Like an odd re-hash of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, this quartet of anti-roleplaying horrors took our group to pieces (well to individuals really, but hey). Here is a rambling post of thoughts.

All the players have challenging situations to incorporate into our rpg lives, and while I’m mad keen to get some face to face roleplaying done, I find it nigh on impossible to get a consistent day per week or fortnight where I can play guilt free. The other players all have children added into the mix, so their lives are doubly complex.

How do regular gamers do it?

Negotiation seems to be the order of the day. If we can get consistency amongst the group for a regular game, then we might get some value. There are a lot of barriers.

Playing too infrequently means that we spend most of the session socialising rather than gaming. It also means that we have such a long break between sessions that only the most dedicated can remember the details of the game. Who did what to the NPC? Why are we on the ship? Which toon is the creepy guy playing in this game? Bleeerk, its all lost if we go 2-3 weeks between sessions. I think you really need to be playing regularly to get a consistently good result.

The (not so) funny thing is that I see this in online games too. You need a consistent set of players to make substantial progress in raiding games. Every change in the line-up, each switch in player means something is lost and the group has to re-learn the interaction. In a computer game this has less impact, as the characters are “hired” for a particular set of roles, and we have distinctive tools to measure performance.

In an RPG though there is the added twist to the change of line-up of the personal face time. A new person is an unknown. Nobody will play the same when fresh meat is added to the table. The group has to normalise again, the balance is shifted, and the power dynamics change significantly – so that it can turn the game itself into a different game. The feel can be greatly changed overnight.

I guess the solution for us is to wait until the Horsemen ride on to other tables, and we can regroup. You can’t force time where there is none. We can’t ignore family to entertain ourselves, and we should never sacrifice work for a neat rpg session. Damn it.

Till then, I’ll ponder all sorts of things slowly changing in the rpg world. It is a quiet news month in terms of impact of the industry changes affecting my rpg hobbies. Not much released, and nothing substantive changing at the moment. It feels like the in-between stretch of the year where we are re-grouping from financial year’s end; and not quite ready for the malarky of the holiday seasons.

Happy gaming