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:
One of the major concepts I worked on for the Arelat section of Faith and Flame was that of the allied hedge wizard herbalists of the Coenobium, the so-called “Masques of the Coenobium”.
This concept was eventually watered down to an insert of the same name, the Pralician character Lavandarius and some details on Lavender of Virtue.
Lavandula or lavender is such an iconic symbol of modern Provence that I wanted to be able to include it somehow in the Arelat section but without it being too anachronistic. This attempt lead to a whole lot of research into medieval herbalism, the reputedly magical classical properties of lavender in ancient Greek medicine and investigation into the local folk magic of Provence.
As I’m a unabashed “hedge magic tragic” from way back, some sort of allied collective of subsidiary Cunning-Folk / Folk Witch style herbalists seemed a logical concept to develop further, particularly for a covenant like the Coenobium where the Jerbiton magi style themselves as living in good taste (hence the perfumes, fine pastries, sauces and spiced wine) and the Redcap contingent has need for a plethora of useful minor magical items.
I’d always considered Hermetic enchanted devices as quite powerful for Redcaps (although arguably important from a meta-game perspective) and wanted to explore the potential of Redcaps relying on hedge magic devices as it seemed more authentically medieval in flavour. More on this perhaps in a later post…
The following article collects some of this material cut from the Arelat drafts:
I’ve just posted the first supplemental material for Faith and Flame over at the relevant page.
Originally the Redcap Sicart the Leper was intended for inclusion in the book as a potentially ally of new characters, but I didn’t feel comfortable statting up various Companion characters initially (I hadn’t written my “Training Packages for Redcaps” article yet). I then ultimately ran out of time.
This character concept came from reading ArM3 A Midsummer Nights Dream, the classic “Four Seasons Tetralogy” adventure supplement set mainly in the Val du Bosque that begins with the infamous Provencal Tribunal meeting of 1207 set at the ancient covenant of Dois… oh, hang on we can’t mention the trademarks of other companies now can we? Continue reading Provencal Material – the Backstory of the Leper Herald→
For a start, there’s a lot more Redcaps – there’s actually 13 in total to be exact (all unGifted). For what seems such a geographically small Tribunal with only 9 large covenants detailed (although possibly many smaller covenants and a fair share of eremites perhaps) that seems like a generous share compared to the five detailed for Stonehenge.
The ArM4 supplement Heirs to Merlin, by David Chart,briefly details five male Stonehenge Redcaps (Jocelin, Percival, Great William, Little William and Edgar) based out of the so-called Mercer House near Coventry, a location that is geographically central (pages 114-115).
Although no longer canonical for fifth edition, the supplement contains no game statistics and the material within can be readily adapted to ArM5 (or potentially adapted to a different game system and used as background setting material).
The Mercer House and Redcaps mentioned in Heirs to Merlin differ somewhat from the later ArM5 versions (for details see Houses of Hermes: True Lineages, pages 82-88). These differences may be readily developed however and may create interesting stories.
In order to prevent raising unwanted suspicion, many Redcap items take the form of traditional charms and amulets used by common folk – although the Church may disapprove of this practice, the use of forms familiar as folk magic eases the doubts of the local peasants and merchants that Redcaps interact with during their travels. Discretion is considered a relatively cheap but valuable design principle throughout House Mercere’s artificers and alchemists.
Like the folk charms they resemble, many enchanted items used by Redcaps are small in size, typically Tiny (size multiplier x1), to aid in concealment. This generally limits the instilled enchantments to relatively low level effects (50 spell levels if made of a base metal) as noted in the various descriptions below. Although many of the forms can incorporate more precious or exotic materials, this in turn makes them more appealing to theft by mundanes (or other Redcaps).
If there’s one thing a medieval traveler needs, it’s a good walking stick and Redcaps are no exception. Ever since I saw the picture in ArM3 Houses of Hermes, page 79 of Enomil, the Gifted Mercere sworn to follow in the steps of Mercere by delivering messages for seven years without casting magic, I’ve always considered Redcaps employ walking sticks.
The first instalment of this series of pages describes the potential and characteristics of such mundane and magical tools. I’ve included details for local variants such as the alpenstock(Greater Alps), the Way of Santiago pilgrim’s bordon (Provencal, Iberia) and the Basque makila (Iberia) in the article.