Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Why I stay away from message boards

I was up a little early this morning and had a bit of time to go poking around the ol' Internet for fun so I scanned through a couple of message boards, looking for interesting conversations. Over at Story-games.com, I stopped to browse a thread titled Ars Magica - my first dirty hippy game. ArM is my first love and even though the old girl is looking a little old and haggard these days so are we all.

I found myself reading along, happily thinking to myself "Yeah, man, you tell 'em about troupe-style play," or "Oh, you're missing the point on the magic system there, snarkipants... I hope someone sets you straight." Several people reminisce back to the days of Ars Magica Second Edition, which is when my ArM infatuation was also its strongest. Before the days of the Berklist, before the days of excessive Latin and history police scolding the non-compliant about their conjugation or their anachronisms.

Many people who know me in real life have heard my patented Ars Magica Rant. For over 20 years people have grossly misunderstood the game and continually found ways to miss the damn point to my intense frustration. Back in yon olden days I wrote magazine articles and contributed to Alarums & Excursions to get my case out "in defense of the grog." Colleagues who I respected as clever designers and experienced roleplayers time after time showed astonishing blindness where Ars Magica was concerned. Oh, they liked parts of it but they were blind to its metagame balance every time.

In the course of that single thread, I enjoyed a brief and happy nostalgia thinking back to my glory days and the height of my Ars Magica passion (where I was playing ArM up to three times a week with different groups), was dragged back through the dark days of 3rd Edition ArM and the 4th Edition "fix" (an ordeal that so wearied me I barely bothered to crack the book open when it finally came out through Atlas Games), and by the end I was once again shaking my fist at the screen and growling "No, no you fools!" like some crazed mad scientist game designer. I've resolved not to register at the site precisely to keep myself from posting any insane rants.

People consistently miss that Ars Magica IS balanced. They consistently look at the "weird" ideas like characters held in common and shared GM duties (under the umbrella of troupe-style play) as a fringe thing or a "technique," an extraneous add-on to an otherwise appealing system. I've become even more strident about this in my older age: playing ArM without those things is like playing Vampire with only Virtues and no Flaws (or whatever the kids call them these days). Shut up with the whining about the Latin in the magic system, it's no harder to learn than made up rpg lingo or understanding what it means to have a "proficiency bonus" what "obfuscate" does. If you're playing in a game where "Magi go around doing something cool, the companions help and the grogs carry the baggage, stand around looking tough, and say <i>yes master</i> a lot" you're playing with assholes, find a better group. No, the game would NOT be better if the characters were "balanced in terms of the power" and HELL NO you shouldn't be trying to rotate the Storyguide every scene!

gnash, gnash, gnash...

I wish I could say it was these kids today but really it's been like this for 20 years now and even with all the young up-and-comers and their talk of game design revolution, nothing has changed for poor Ars Magica. People still don't get it and I'm no longer young and foolish enough to think they will.

Backing away from the message boards now...



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Blogger Rob L. Says:

I always regretted that we could never get a true troupe-style ArsM game going back in the Bergen Street days. Not to pat myself on the back or anything but I'm right there with you. Playing grogs was fun - Let me tell you about the time the grog I was running got to out-drink a troll so he would let us across his bridge.
We mostly played 3rd Edition - I liked it until it got all demon-y.


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