2009-02-11: Long Term Games
The sun is shining and the snow is melting. It's like a taste of spring outside! This morning I was taking a walk with our dog, and my mind went back to a role playing game campaign from long ago.
In the long-running Ars Magica hack game that Vincent, Meg and I ran, our main characters were three young mages who hiked out to Romania or Hungary, and founded a new covenant on a snowy mountain peak there. My real world home in the more-than-a-hill-not-quite-a-mountains of western MA holds shades of their experiences.
The first winter they had nothing. Well, almost nothing. They had lots of people, which were Meg's character's contribution to the efforts. She travelled with her parens, who was a well respected Bjornaer mage, with a well-outfitted though simple retinue and set of servants. We would only find out later that Behris (sp?) and Damwild, Meg's mage, were romantic partners. Behris, an ousted princely landholder from northern Africa had met Damwild and Eiki, Damwild's parens during their time helping fight with/against? the Reconquista.
But that's not really what I meant to write about. What I was thinking about today, was where they stayed on the mountain top during that first winter. Damwild, Eiki and the other covenfolk stayed down in a nearby town, bringing trade and prosperity to them for a time, but in order to stake our claim and start doing some work up on the mountaintop, two of the mages and covener spent the winter there.
We built a tiny little building. The know-how of how to build this and all the rest of what we'd build was brought by Vincent's character Acanthus. He was a Verditius, the tinkerers and artificers of the Order, who had a crazy scheme to build a giant suit of flaming armor which I believe our characters may have ridiculed him out of completing. My mage Soraya and one of the coveners that Meg was playing, Ivald? spent a looooong, cold boring winter up on the peak, during which time Soraya hunted in her half-bobcat form, Ivald learned to write and learned that mages can be fuck-ups too, they're just fuck-ups with lots of power, and Acanthus carved on the walls of the hut we lived in. And, incidentally, we discovered that we had a Griffen as a neighbor up there, which gave the covenant it's name, Griffen's Aerie.
That was what I thought of today, those carvings in the wall. Graffiti basically, painstakingly etched into all the walls, the ceiling, the furniture, maybe the floors too—flowers, animals, runes, characters, covering every surface we could see. Acanthus and Soraya argued and sparred through the whole winter (hence Ivald's changed attitude from fear of the mages to affectionate dismissal), and throughout it I can see Acanthus going back to his carvings, one after another building on one another to transform the space.
This building became the nucleus of our holding on the hilltop. We built a main hall, houses for the coveners and mages. Soraya eventually got a tree house, which made her happy. She could fly in and out in crow form. The small building which initially was all we had, eventually became a small cramped building that was used as guest space, and was taken over by Ivald who became our librarian.
Acanthus would never do anything so elaborate with decorations in our covenant again. The carvings coating the library were a testament to that first winter, remaining as a backdrop to the spells and fights, introductions and calm conversations we'd have with other mages and visitors there. I imagine we hosted the local Duke there when he came to call once after Damwild adopted his daughter as an apprentice. How could we not serve tea to this dignitary there, showing him our precious books and impressive carvings as we attempted to retain a semblance of normalcy, posing as "philosophers" who wanted to educate his wierd, bookish daughter.
It's a small thing, an extraneous detail that could have been a throw away line in a shorter game. In this long-term game, it was just one of many facets to the world, that expressed our love for the characters and the lives they built together.
In a recent post on anyway. Callan wrote:
I think certainly we've been conditioned in many games to think long term play == awesome. But when you aim for it as a primary goal...well, clearly its somehow hard to design for? The leveling mechanics of D&D, etc, may have conditioned us to a false conclusion that size/length does matter >:)
This is my conditioning. This is why, to me, size and length (of campaign) do matter.
2009-02-11 22:47:10 ScottM
Your post conveys it well. It even took a longer story to explain why length is a good thing. ;)
2009-02-12 06:08:52 Mo
Right on, Em.
2009-02-13 02:41:45 Christopher Kubasik
This was a great post. The kind that makes me want to do whatever the heck it was that you did and do it for myself!
2009-02-20 02:24:39 Christopher Kubasik
Okay.... I can't stop thinking about this post.
And I can't stop thinking about how intrigued I was when I first held the first edition of AM in my hands years ago. And how the second edition seemed a cleaner machine. And there were all these cool ideas in the game... but I never got to play it.
And I know you all changed the rules—a lot? a little? I don't know...
But could you talk about how you played? The changes you made? How you played that was different than in the book?
2009-02-22 03:05:27 Meguey
Whew, that's a lot! Yes, we drifted pretty far from the letter of the rules, even if the spirit remained in some wispy sate. I'd have to go back and look at the book to answer more completely. Emily's away for the weekend, so I'm sure she'll answer in more depth when she gets back.
How we played was fairly straightforward. We'd start each session by asking 'ok, who's doing what?' and we'd all think for a few minutes about which of our characters was doing anything interesting. It often felt like adjusting a pair of binoculars, bringing the scene and characters into focus. Then we'd follow whatever came into sight.
We kept very through notes, both a log of events (sometimes nearly verbatim) and notes on story threads still unresolved, dice mechanics we'd developed to handle specific situations, lists of books in the library, lists of names associated with the game and etc. This way, we could keep track of story arcs, although I don't recall ever fully plotting one out beforehand.
We ditched whole chunks of the book (I can check which ones) and, while we retained the House names and the Form names, we played kind of loose with how magic worked. Numbers very rarely figured into making spells, and even though we had spell creation int eh fiction, it didn't work like the book prescribed.
That's all I've got for tonight - thanks for asking!
2009-03-04 22:54:46 Emily
Meg reminded me yesterday that I need to reply to you. And I found this just now:
An archive of all the threads where Meg, Vincent and I talked about our Ars Magica game that this post came from. Adventures in RGFA Simulationism has one of our favorite stories from the game. (Acanthus on the roof) I hope it, and they communicate!)