Design Notes – Sub Pontem (Provencal)

Although I contributed some ideas to the concept of Aedes Mercuriae (see Dois…?), and pitched the unrecognised “pirate covenant” of Fraxinetum Redux, I really created only one major covenant to Faith and Flame: the Provencal Tribunal that ended up in the final supplement.

This was the multi-site Jerbiton and Mercere led covenant know as Coenobium Rhodanien or more commonly, just “The Coenobium”.

<cue moody threatening music>

The Pont St Benezet in a slightly later age

The concept for this covenant actually originated long before the initial pitch for Provencal (more on that later), while I was researching material on Burgundy.

I’d had this concept (inspired by reading the House Jerbiton section of Houses of Hermes: Societates) for an urban Jerbiton led Autumn covenant that would be suitable as a “home base” for starting players – one where they could explore their characters a bit first, without having to run an initial sequence of common beginning stories about “setting up camp” (Spring) or “exploring the ruins and decay” (Winter).

Although I didn’t know it a the time (as Against the Dark wasn’t out yet, and I wasn’t privy to it’s development) the concept was quite similar to some of the ideas for stories of magi working for the Tremere, but I was thinking somewhat more along the lines of a Saga based on an ensemble cast TV serial where there was an existing background of supporting characters with a history but plenty of potential for new characters to develop and create stories. Potentially the Coenobium makes a great place to end the Itinerarium of newly Gauntleted Jerbiton magi.

I kept thinking “Deep Space Nine set in Mythic Europe”. But without the Ferengi.

No, seriously, that was the core of the initial concept – in some ways a hearkening back to the “Old School” days of RPG where the adventurers all met in a bar, got into a fight and then found a reason to all trudge up into the hills to the old cave to find the village elder’s lost relative. Except this is Ars Magica, so it’s newly Gauntleted magi being thrown together while visiting the Coenobium…

This was all before I enrolled in iversity the Future of Storytelling MOOC and knew about pacing and development of mini-series serial dramas and “dailys” – there’s something more to be said about a “TV” approach for RPGs (and I know of at least one Saga that uses this style of play) but perhaps that discussion can wait for now.

See below for some additional short Coenobium related articles:

Next week… “the Backstory of Fraxinetum”



2 thoughts on “Design Notes – Sub Pontem (Provencal)”

  1. Hi,

    Thank you for the great work on the Provencal Tribunal. It’s one very good book. Yet, i have a bit of uncertainty related to the 3 big players of Provence (Castra Solis, Aedes Mercurii and, of course, the Coenobium).

    Most notably, how does the Coenobium deal with magi who wants to settle a new covenant on what they consider their “territory”?
    Let me develop a bit here:
    my players and I started designing a new saga in march, knowing that the Tribunal Book would get released around june. Unable to wait any longer, we started to brainstorm about where to settle our covenant to be. And we agreed on Porquerolles, one of the Hyeres islands.
    Having played several saga previously where magi start with a fresh new spring covenant, and unwilling to deal with the first few year of developing the covenant, we agreed to do a fast forward directly to summer.
    Only then the Tribunal Book hit the stores and i discovered about the Coenobium (and also about Fraxinetum Redux).
    Of course, i could have decide that Coenobium is not as much protective about what it considers its own territory, but i found it appealing to have a powerful covenant messing up with the summer covenant of my players.
    So, it happened like this: the Coenobium so far waited for the player’s covenant to fall by itself, only slightly engineering the events to accelerate its doom, but the uncongnicient characters, during the fast forward, managed to do good enough not to fall and even to reach summer.
    Now, in 1220, characters are the happy parents of a 10 years old covenant on the edge of summer.
    They received a letter from Alazais saying, to make it short: “join us, we’re good people, plenty of advantages; if you don’t join us, you’ll be weak, sad, and a prey to raiders”. Not so far from “join or die” actually, but coated with a lot of honey and sweet (and genuine convincing arguments).
    But as i expected (and hoped), my players spotted the trap (to lose their independency) and plan to rebuke the offer.
    So, my question is then: according to you, what would be the extend of the means the coenobium would deploy to coerce the player characters or provoke the doom of their covenant?
    I have several ideas, such as sending thugs destroy their main source of incomes or vis source, manipulate mundane to attack or cause problems, pay pirates to raid their assets, engineer some cases and trials (either mundane or hermetic), all in the hope to make them give up and surrender, or escape the Hyeres islands.
    As the main creator of Coenobium, i’d be glad to have your opinion on this matter 🙂

    Thank you

    1. Thanks for the comments and the question:

      According to you, what would be the extend of the means the Coenobium would deploy to coerce the player characters or provoke the doom of their covenant?

      The short answer is they don’t. At least they don’t appear to openly – the Coenobium is subtle and somewhat insipid in their tactics, preferring behind the scenes manipulation and reliance on their mundane and hedge wizard allies. This is the group that engineered the destruction of the original Fraxinet under the cover of a mundane war after all, covering their tracks (imperfectly). They’ve learnt from prior experiences.

      You’re on the right track – they use their Agents, the Redcaps and other less magical means to disrupt the Spring covenant’s vis supplies, discredit them to other Tribunals, lose messages etc all the while pretending to be an aid. Ultimately the Coenobium prefers to absorb or assimilate any other Arelat settlements (despite their history, Fraxinetum Redux and it’s resources would make an ideal addition to the Coenobium’s roster). Why confront when you can cooperate?

      Did you ever wonder why the chapter houses of Portus Cottiae really fell, why the surrounding minor covenants never recovered – perhaps the Coenobium was behind the raider attacks in the first place as part of some deep con by a Tytalus covered by the peace loving message of Jerbiton dupes… 🙂

      As to your covenant being based in the Hyeres, just shift Fraxinetum to the Isles de Lerin or off the map to the Balearics (still Muslim until James of Aragon invades in a few years times) if you don’t want confrontation. Alternatively Fraxinetum may seek an alliance (they’re mainly ship bound anyway) or furtively use the Hyeres beneath the noses of the Spring covenant, ultimately risking discovery.

      Hope this helps!

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