The fantasy world of Ars Magica mirrors the factual world of medieval Europe, specifically the early thirteenth century. The points that initially pulled me to the game were two: wizards never forgot their spells and the game uses real history as its setting background. All of my early role-playing game experience stems from Dungeons & Dragons and my battered collection of The Players Handbook, the Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Masters Guide. In that game, copied from Jack Vance’s Dying Earth novels, wizards knew a limited number of spells, and once cast had to re-memorize spells to cast them again. This worked well in the books because the spells were powerful, and while spells can be powerful in D&D wizards early in their careers don’t know those spells. They know weak spells, and once cast are reduced to mapping the dungeon, triggering traps, and throwing darts at monsters. One-shot wonders.
In Ars Magica, using a different system for spells and magic, wizards don’t forget spells. A wizard can cast a known spell until the cows come home. Does this make them powerful? Yes. It makes playing a wizard a lot more fun.
The second half of my love for the game was its adherence to real history. Nothing is weirder, funnier, and more fulfilling than real life. You might think that Aragon’s world is fantastic, that Conan treads a realistic primordial world, and that Elric carves his way through a believable reality, and while those are all grand they pale in comparison to some of the antics of our forefathers. During the papal conclave of 1241, the mayor of Rome sequestered the cardinals in an dilapidated building and refused to release them until they picked the new pope. To encourage their decision the guards stationed on the leaky roof peed on it. That’s gross. It is also very real and sets quite an image. Knights raided their neighbors with regularity. Abbots and monks defended the abbey swords in hands. Academics argued the finer points of theology during the day and drunk themselves into a stupor at night. Dragons and giants roamed just out of sight, saints’ interventions and devils’ temptations were a daily event. The depth of detail is incredible, once the digging begins.
Writing for a project generally means researching the hell out of it first. I’m lucky that I work at a university with a world-class library system, making research enjoyable and easy. I found wages for medieval craftsmen when writing City &Guild, explained neo-Platonism in Art & Academe, and described the city of Constantinople after the siege of 1204 in The Sundered Eagle: The Theban Tribunal. I like the research stage.
I also like the creation stage, when I take the found facts of the past and pull them apart to stick game mechanics and story ideas in the cracks. It is all aimed at the game, so far, but sometimes I go a step farther. Sometimes I take the facts and pull a narrative out if it, writing a short piece of fiction that no one ever sees. Until now. For better or worse, I’ll post some of my unedited fiction here.
I mean, it’s not like anyone is going to see it here.