Category Archives: covenant

The Lonely Tower on the Barthelasse

Lair beneath island
Example Coenobium Sanctum?

I found this image on Pinterest the other day, and although it’s much more “d20” than ArM5 in style it would work quite nicely as a temporary sanctum for a reclusive magus of the Coenobium in Faith and Flame or even one of the lairs of the infamous Drac…

At the time of a starting canonical ArM5 Saga, the so-called “Isle of Barthelasse”, situated in the main stream of the Rhone at the level of the Avignon crossing / Pont St Benezet was most likely composed of a number of shifting swamping islets similar to the small island depicted in the image.

The original concept for the geographical precursor covenant to the Coenobium, “Sub Pontem“, was a collection of reclusive magi living beneath the swampy islands beneath the main bridge and on moored barges served by a rag tag turb of outcast river folk. The laboratory barges and Nicodemus (himself a nod to another famous wizard that was found beneath a bridge) remained in the final draft but some of the more “gypsy” elements were left behind in the transformation to the more urbane Jerbiton covenant.

 

 

Beyond the Horizon: Thoughts on Mediterranean Robinsonades

In a recent post over on Games from Folktales, Timothy commented on the concept of “Robinsonades” in terms of their story potential as a starting point for an Ars Magica Saga. Alluding to Shakespeare’s The Tempest as a potential source of inspiration, he broadly defines the concept in his first paragraph:

A Robinsonade is a type of story that takes its name from Robinson Crusoe. In the structure of the story a person from a technologically superior area is stranded in an area where they have limited societal support.

Read “magically adept” for “technologically superior” by invoking Clarke’s 3rd Law and he argues that starting a covenant from a shipwrecked group of magi and their surviving grogs is a potential Robinsonade beginning to a Saga. Let’s not get into the whys and hows of a group of magi travelling by ship and managing to get shipwrecked – that’s a whole different post or two – and take a moment to concentrate on the where, at least in terms of the Mediterranean, potentially linking into my Mythic Genoa concepts.

The Areas of the Meditteranean Out of Sight of Land.jpg
Areas Out of Sight of Land (from The Corrupting Sea)

The above image is a photograph from a very useful book about Mediterranean History (The Corrupting Sea, Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell, Peregrine 2000) that discusses the Meditteranean as a maritime continent or “extended archipelago” of ports and settlements along the coasts linked by a common culture. The map demonstrates those areas “out of sight of land”, the “deeps” of the ocean beyond the horizon which in this instance equates to the line of demarcation between where an individual on a ship at sea can still see land features including mountains and where the observer sees only an unbroken circle of water.

I’d like to explore these so-called featureless “deeps” later, but in his original post Timothy suggests that Sagas set on islands out of sight of a passing ship may make a good example of a Robinsonade. Let’s use then this map as a starting point for discussion.

Note: the image above presumably details what those on board a ship can see – unless an observer is standing on a high peak, their horizon at any coastal point is limited to mere 3 miles. An observer on the deck of a ship can similarly only see human sized objects at sea level 3 miles away, which according to this calculator extends for those in the crow’s nest or the top of the mast of most contemporary ships to about 10 miles at most in clear weather during daylight. This is only the top of the landmark however, the rest of the landmass is hidden behind the horizon. So it’s entirely possible to miss another ship or a beacon fire on the beach unless the smoke rises as a column or you have a lookout positioned up the mast. Also one ship may be able to see another’s mast from miles off while remaining undetected by the other crew at deck level or be completely hidden from castaways gazing out from the where they have waded into the waves…

Height above sea level, for both the observer AND the object is the key.

  • sea level: 3 miles
  • 30 feet: 7 miles
  • 50 feet:  9 miles

If the top of the object and the observer are elevated, then the distance increases.

Historically, particularly in ancient times when oared galleys were the primary means of maritime transport, but also in medieval times of sail, most ships sailed within sight of the coast – within a few miles along the plains and further out to sea for coasts rocky headlands or mountainous coasts. To venture beyond this horizon was a concept that generated significant dread and had associated superstitions. Ships did sometimes cross the wider expanses with the aid of astrological navigation (itself a great topic) but much more rarely, so the borders on the map potentially represent the furthermost limit a ship would readily sail.

western-meditteranean-out-of-sight-of-land
Western “Deeps”

Although there’s no scale to the overall map (and technically the line varies by a few miles depending on the height of the observer if they’re at the top of the mast of the ship), it’s interesting to me for several reasons, but in response to Timothy’s post, let’s briefly deal with whether this map helps with the hypothesis that there are islands out of sight of passing ships traversing the common coastal routes of the Mediterranean and leave out those few intrepid ships and crews that cross the wider open expanses for now.

He mentions the Scilly Isles, the Channel Isles and the Hebrides, which are all part of more northern Tribunals, and does not mention the Aegean islands possibly because of the busy sea traffic in the Theban Tribunal. So let’s deal with the two Mediterranean suggestions: the islands off Sicily  (Aeolian, Ustica, Aegadian, Pelagian) and the smaller islands between Spain and the Balearics.

Example #1: the Balearic Islands?

Let’s deal with the Balearics area first.

The initial map indicates that the Balearics, given their mountainous nature, are readily seen by ships sailing eastwards from the port of Valencia and the small islets off the coasts of the three main islands are well within the 10 mile diameter of a passing ship (blue circles on the map below) if not the 3 mile radius of being seen from the coast. So it’s really a question of whether the smaller island of Formentera (highest point 390 feet) south of Ibiza and the islets of the Cabrera Archipelago (highest point 560 feet) south of Majorca  are easily visible.

Both lie within 10 miles of their nearby major islands, so their landward coasts are readily visible from a ship sailing within sight of the main coast and their peaks are easily seen from even further out (24 miles and 29 miles respectively, green circles on the map).

balearic-robinsonades
Horizons relevant to the lesser Balearic Islands

It’s unclear whether ships passed to the north or south of the Balearics (Edit: checking another reference, they probably did pass to the south due to the prevailing winds and currents of the western Mediterranean), but assuming they did round the southern coastline, Formontera with it’s overall flatter relief to the west and elevation to the east would be passed frequently. On the other hand, the rocky seaward side of Cabrera might be relatively hidden in the shadow of its highest central elevation from most passing ships hugging the Majorcan coastline to the north and therefore might be a potential Robinsonade style covenant location.

archipielago_de_cabrera
Cabrera Archipelago: a Robinsonade Saga location?

To be continued…

The Final Gate or Where Did all the Necromancers Go?

Obols

While drafting my sections for Faith and Flame I was keen to incorporate some Theban elements into the Arelat section as Massalia (later to be called Marseille) was originally founded as a Phocaean colony long before the Romans arrived to establish the Provincia and subsume the local Greek culture.

We were developing the Cult of Mercury concepts under Erik’s lead and I looked back through my notes for inspiration and found an old idea from the Light of Andorra Saga circa 2008 that I’d worked on for a Gifted Mercere character named Decimus that had been initiated into the Cult of Mercury by his mater, Honoria:

Portus Phlegythas, a watery subterranean covenant and mortuary for the pagan cult that holds a gate to the realm of Hades, located in the deepest stretch of the Verdon Gorge in rivers and lakes. Populated by pallid covenfolk warped by the high Magic aura to be overly sensitive to sunlight. A Mercere pontifex (archmagus) of the Cult, Fraxinus of Mercere, leads the covenant and officiates over the funerary rituals of the crematorium.

It is also home to a small lineage of Ex-Miscellanea Mercurians who specialise in speaking with the departed spirits of antiquity like the ancient Dacian necromantic tradition that joined House Tremere in the 9th century, thereby gaining much lost lore and occasional insights about the future.

Decimus stayed only briefly, long enough for Honoria to prearrange a ceremonial funerary service and cremation in the traditions of the Cult for him – a traditional gift from mater to filius upon being considered worthy of attempting the Hermetic Gauntlet. You briefly met the magi there and made a favourable impression on them, including Acheronus, the Tytalus Titanoi interested in controlling the powerful daemon referred to as Styx, personification of Hatred and Oaths. It’s a very creepy place, even for a covenant-raised pagan like Decimus…

I therefore wrote a short paragraph on the covenant, renaming it Portus Termini and linking it in to the history of the Coenobium by making it the destination of the necromancer survivors of the Saracen depradations of the Alyscamps, the ancient graveyard near Arles. I felt this linked in well with the funerary custom ideas for the Cult of Mercury and wanted to expand on the concept of a parens from the Cult of Mercury purchasing an obol for Charon to “pay the ferryman” well in advance for their apprentice’s ultimate death and Mercurian style funeral.

The potential Story Seeds of a magi’s obol being stolen and used as an Arcane Connection to either their living self or their ghost seemed worth exploring but I didn’t get a chance to develop it as a counterpoint to the Tremere’s custom of passing through the Gate of Eurydice (see Houses of Hermes: True Lineages, page 115 and Against the Dark, page 22 for further details) and as an example of a potential remnant of the non-Tremere Dacian necromancers. Some of the ideas detailed for Qui Sonant Pro Quieto, the covenant that serves as the final resting place for Ireland’s magi (detailed in The Contested Isle, page 105-107) could be readily applied, at the risk of being derivative. I suspect I could link it into the Cult of Orpheus somehow as well.

Another idea that occurred to me later on was to link some of my Terrae magi ideas such as the Sleeping Army (originally derived form a conversation with the former Berklist alumni, David Woods, who wrote the Guernicus chapter of Houses of Hermes: True Lineages) and link it into some of my ideas regarding Petra and the Mercurian and Guernicus involvement with Urbs Rubra.

Unfortunately, despite all this potential, during the writing process we quickly began to run out of room in the Provencal draft however and as I felt the covenant was becoming more “Theban” in style. Erik was leading the Mercurian development in an amazing direction and so I didn’t translate the remainder of my notes into a full covenant description and turned my concentration to other concepts. The sole remaining reference was spotting on the Atlas Forums, remaining as a potential “Easter Egg” clue…

I still think the concept has value as a covenant “between Tribunals” (and perhaps “between worlds”) as such, but rather than being a transport nexus and Mercer House like Harco, it serves more as a destination or a one-off expedition. Making it at least accessible via subterranean waterways gives it the potential to be visited from nearly any geographic are in Mythic Europe potentially reached by the Romans, so I hope I can expand it further perhaps as a fully fledged Sub Rosa piece but more in the style of a “Hooks” or adventure article than just a gazetteer piece.

See the remnant of the original draft text for the covenant:

 

 

The Story of Mythic Fraxinetum

One of the core concepts driving the design of the Arelat chapter of Faith and Flame was the wake of the depradations of Fraxinetum. This little known but fascinating  episode from real history was a great hook and I felt the concept required at least some treatment in any Provencal Tribunal book.

I had just finished writing material for The Cradle and the Crescent at the time, so working on some ideas for a Moorish raider covenant came fairly easily.

See below for the link from the Faith and Flame page to the extra Fraxinetum material:

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

Continue reading Design Notes – Sub Pontem (Provencal)

Covenants vs Alliances

ArM5 Alliances (French, link to Ludo Games)

So there’s a French version of Ars Magica 5th edition and it has very beautiful cover-art (see the Covenants equivalent to the right).

I’ve been thinking about this since Timothy posted the announcement over on his blog, and since I haven’t quite worked out the whole “reblog” kung-fu, I’ll just post some comments here…

Sure, although I like the moody art, I think there’s something more here, perhaps just a trick of translation or emphasis but I’ve noticed that over time, particularly on the various forums, the concept of a covenant has become solidified for the vast majority of the community into a physical home for the magi, the whole “castle-on-the-hill-in-the-faerie-wood” trope alluded to in ArM5 Covenants.

Most of the canonical ArM5 covenants are described in terms of places, sites and locations, with some notable exceptions such as the Transylvanian examples.

But to me the place magi live is not actually what a covenant truly is.

Continue reading Covenants vs Alliances

The Question of Verdi and the Control of Roman Vis

NuragheCurrently there is no canonical ArM5 treatment of the Roman Tribunal, which suits me fine as it not only allows me to develop my Mythic Genoa material without needing to account for more than occasional scattered references but leaves me really with only the old, often vilified and demon-plagued White Wolf version – ArM3 Tribunal of Hermes: Rome.

This is not the place for a dissection of that supplement’s flaws and merits, but I’d like to comment on one theme from the work that seems to have carried through into the current line:

The Roman Tribunal is vis poor.

Continue reading The Question of Verdi and the Control of Roman Vis