Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How, What, Where, NPCs and Ars Magica

The Ars Magica sessions seem to be going well, I am having fun and everyone else tells me they are too, so that is good.

When we have completed the prologue - probably four more sessions - all the Player Characters, and more non-Player Characters (NPC) than I had expected - though with so far two notable surprising exceptions - should be at the Covenant. When we have all gotten that far we will write up the prologue, I will be asking the others for their write up on what happened. Nothing to elaborate, as much as people are prepared to write, but it would be good to get some input from everyone before going forward, this way I know what is important to people and get some perspective on what was liked and not liked.

Then we will take a break from the story line of our central cast, if everyone agrees, and progress another related story using just NPCs. This will also give me a chance to get my vague ideas consolidated and some preparation done that incorporates everyone’s input before taking things up at the Covenant. I am keen that we all feel strongly linked to the Covenant so wish to plan this and discuss it with people before hand.

So far, the use of NPCs has gone well with at least one player being much attached to the Mythic Companion he has been playing. Another player seemed to enjoy exploring the capabilities of a specialized Herbam Magi as he endeavored to save villagers from marauding beasts from some unknown “other” place. Unfortunately, this Herbam Magi only was played in one session so he will have to be reprised.

A surprising twist from the NPCs being played by the characters has seen the Mythic Companion abducted or fulfilling an obligation (depending on how you look at it). It is good people are attached to the NPCs but also good that consequences be realized. This NPC did suffer a bit in the end but not just because of his actions, nor just those of the other NPCs; one PC did not act to help as the NPC surrendered, while the second PC was pushing him into his punishment as an experiment. Anyway out of this, very vague I know, came a fun storyline that has directly linked a character the Players are attached to, to some back-story. This has given us the opportunity to progress this story without the hand of the GM forcing things along - or maybe moving it along out of the sight of the players is a better way to phrase it - more on that later. Anyway it brings background unknown story to the fore and into everyone’s hands which is nice. Another NPC was handed over to another Magus no questions asked which was quite funny, poor chubby Gautier. It was much unexpected; the PC did not even bother trying to use his masses of Charm and Wit to save him!

Thus far, people have played Folquet, Viriathus and to a lesser extent Jihad. The characters Gautier, Tanit and Magpie have also been designed as NPCs with the intent that people are able to play them but I am a player down. I am also holding Tanit back as there are some things I am keen to do with the character first and I have been enjoying playing her.

Having people play the NPCs seems to have allowed stories to progress more naturally but still within a broad guideline. With NPCs I have provided some kind of instruction. Except for Jihad who ended up being played by a different player at a different stage in the session than intended, but that can easily be fixed before next session as I had emailed information on him to everyone, everyone just didn’t read it I am guessing. What I haven’t done is switch control of NPCs around yet and will probably do so in the future. Back to the point of this paragraph; the NPCs are there in part to ensure fun and effective characters to go along with the PCs and allow escape from the DnD party which drives many games that I have played and instead bring in the Troupe idea that Ars Magica is designed for. There are other NPCs designed by players, which have appeared as Antagonists, as well as a few yet to appear.

Regarding the approach to the game; broad goals have been stated for each session, or group of sessions, and a key impact that the NPC should have has also be explained along with a broad outline of personality, linked to flaws and traits. Otherwise people have had free reign and it has been entertaining to watch, play and see the storyline progress in unexpected directions.

Say no to railroading! What can I say that just popped out, I have been experimenting in this game to try and ensure everyone is fully engaged and having as much input as they can or want to have and can take the game in interesting directions but within a broad storytelling framework that everyone has a stake in. I had played in quite a long Ars Magica campaign previously but found my enjoyment deteriorating as my rules knowledge expanded but my input into the game did not at all develop, rather I was just along for other people’s stories. Anyway I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to anyone in this game. For example, with the current three sessions, heading into the final next week, I had been upfront. Storyline objective was to get the PCs and NPCs from point A to B, what happened in the middle was up to the players. They had three Magi who wanted to get from A to B and one NPC who wanted to get from A to B but had a stop over in the middle he wanted to explore. This was pretty much the instruction given I think and the fun has ensued from there. Next session we are minus one NPC but plus another.

I probably have not well explained how I have attempted to do this above so will give it a go. The game is designed to be played in blocks of 2-4 sessions and I have stated up front which PCs characters are to be involved, so will be the stars, and put forth NPC characters for people to play. These will be the supporting cast. By stars this has not meant that the PCs will necessarily obviously be in the driving seat the entire time but the story has been focused on their Virtues and Flaws, especially their Story Hooks, as well as their Personality Traits in an effort to build initial links into the narrative and get every player engaged.

I thought this approach would be useful, to ensure that we are all upfront about spotlight for characters and to ensure that as a group we can make sure that the spotlight is shared around. Not necessarily equally each session but that everybody is assured that their PCs, which people have put much work into constructing, will get their sessions to go forth and engage with the story hooks they have nominated. Or not if they find something else shiny they wish to pursue then that option is there but it all still remains linked to a thread that can keep everyone’s characters engaged.

"All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts.

It is part of the process of life among thinking beings."

I stole this quote from here, this part drew me in as it is the core of the quote and what in part roleplaying is about, but the rest of it is very fitting to what I am trying to do with Ars Magica. Plus the Blog is a good read. I will admit I have no idea who Raymond Chandler is.

I tried to use punctuation as a friend is urging me, probably put it all in the wrong places. Oh well better that than the stream of consciousness none of you would be reading.

I also think Railroading can be undertaken by players, not just by a Storyteller or Game Master.

1 comment:

  1. I think you are on the right track with achieving your intentions! This Ars game sets a benchmark for me and my burning wheel game.