Almost a decade and a half ago a group of fools called New World Order Games ran the last of a series of live Ars Magica games over a long, long weekend in the Peak District.
The games – variously known as NWO Games, Lion and Serpent or the Ars Magica Freeforms – were based on a rich and complex TTRPG background, came from the UK Freeform tradition but increasingly as time went on had crossed over into the UK fest larp tradition and by the end of it, more or less defied all categorization.
Players took on the roles of a secret society of magicians in medieval Europe – the Order of Hermes and associated cults – with their own complex array of laws, behaviours and traditions and tried to navigate the inevitable collisons between their schemes and the real world of the 1200s. Play was rules-light and interaction-heavy and most games were run over two or three days with pre-briefed characters.
(They also spawned a fanatical fan club for a series of fictional children’s’ books about the adventures of two camels – one is small, the other is tall – who may or may not have revealed the secrets of the universe. That might have been an unintended consequence, but you have almost certainly seen their cheeky, lippy grins on a t-shirt or two).
Over the course of the five games in the campaign, and the seven in a previous campaign in the nineties, near enough a million words were written, over twenty writers and referees came and went, and nearly two hundred separate characters passed through the story.
Some of those pre-written character briefings have passed into legend (or notoriety) for their sheer mass.
But those who were there still talk about the things that were done, the stunts that were pulled and the time that was had. Hindsight is both 20:20 and rose-tinted.
It was… a thing of its time. Games have evolved and changed since then, and the setting, once a very popular TTRPG, is nowadays nowhere near so well known. Those games would never run today, in the form they were.
And at the end of it, an exhausted game team had one last group hug, decided that there was unlikely to ever be anything like it again, and that they were OK with that, and they swore, never again.
So What Changed?
Some of us got together recently and noted the forthcoming fifteen year anniversary and wondered if we should mark it in some way.
We thought perhaps a party; or maybe a swimming pool full of gin.
It began as a discussion about a tabletop game background; about whether, after what we did back then, any of us had the tiniest bit of juice left for the world in question. And one writer reached out to another, and then another… And one thing, as one things are wont to do, led inexorably to another.
And, to the germ of an idea. For a place we never visited; for a story we didn’t tell. For something new in a very old place indeed. Something apposite to the world in which we now live.
What, we wondered, if we applied everything we’d learned about the hows and the wherefores of storytelling, about player agency and about game actuation, about scenography and narratology, to something… old school?
So we have had a chat. This wouldn’t be an NWO Games project – that was a thing of its time and not everyone on the old team is on board, so we felt it wouldn’t be right to do something under that banner.
The wider Carcosa Dreams team came on board to provide advice about game styles and modern event delivery and to provide event support, bringing skills around hybrid games, modern techniques and some of the cool things we can do with modern technology and new ways of delivering briefing materials.
And we’ve talked amongst ourselves about writing guidelines, a player contract, some stories and scenes. About lessons learned; about the importance of bullet points and brevity.
And we decided maybe, maybe…
…we had a thing.
Then things went very sideways indeed.
Since we started talking about doing this, of course, COVID-19 has intruded itself into the national consciousness, and that has shaken up a lot of things pretty fundamentally.
We did have a conversation about whether to proceed or not based on the impact the pandemic is having both on ourselves (we variously work for the NHS and central government civil service or major public bodies, and real life is pretty colourful for us right now) and on the broader world.
We don’t know how long the social distancing and lockdown protocols will last. Nor do we have any real grasp of the implications on the hobby and on live events in the longer term.
It might be that this event will never run as a single, live event-in-a-weekend due to force majeure, like many other planned events this year and next; or if it does, it will run in some kind of hybrid experience form involving freeform-by-Zoom or somesuch madness. We don’t know yet.
We are exploring all kinds of options, and a full-on weekend live event is only one of them. There’s more than one way to deliver a narrative experience in this day and age.
But one thing’s for sure – if we don’t crack on, it will most assuredly never happen in any form.
So, on reflection, we’ve decided to go ahead. Writing it will give us some fun in a dark time, and we thought that maybe hearing about it might bring you a wry smile at our folly, too.
But It Was In Another Country; And Besides…
It may be that the audience for this isn’t there. We are all old and tired, and nobody is in it for forty-page briefing notes any more. Well. Almost nobody.
It may be that one of the side effects of this paradigm shift we are living through is that live games as we understood them for the past few decades are done.
Or it may be, given we are all older and tireder, that people aren’t up for the nostalgia trip. And if not, that’s absolutely okay.
We have found some real joy in old friendships refreshed, long-unused muscles flexed, dust brushed off some pretty ancient tools. Even if nothing live comes of it, we’re having a ball doing the worldbuild, and that’ll go ahead whether this runs or not.
But we think that maybe some of you might want to come along for the ride too?
We’ve all, you and us, learned some new tricks and have the benefit of two or three decades of game experience design and play under our belts now. And we think we may have saved some surprises for our last hurrah.
This ain’t going to be your daddy’s freeform game.
And while we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are.
And what we are, is up for it.
One last time?
In association with
Ian A – Paul Snow – JFS – Cthimon
The Meeting of the Tribunal of the Greater Alps
in this Year of our Lord 1347
At the Ends of the Earth
A Standalone (Live? Maybe?) Ars Magica Game for 60 Players
An Old School Tradition executed to Modern Sensibilities
We are at this stage only seeking expressions of interest to determine whether running this as a live game is a viable project.
We have a notional rundate of spring 2021 to line up with the 15-year anniversary of the Grand Tribunal at Ilam Hall in 2006, but that, of course, like everything else in the world, is subject to developments regarding COVID-19.
Until the situation around that resolves, we will not confirm a price, a date or a site.
If it proves impossible to run a live event for reasons of force majeure, we hope to explore other options to deliver this as a game experience.
If you would like to register your interest in the project, with no obligation at this stage, please fill in the form below.
We welcome interest from anyone, whether they were involved in the original games or not – lack of familiarity with what has gone before will, we promise, not be a barrier to play.