Shadowrun and the Invisible Bridge

First things first: Bundle of Holding is once again offering its Ars Magica Fifth Edition deal. You can also still by Shadowrun Fourth Edition from them for another 9 days. I strongly recommend considering either; they’re both deals where you get enough sourcebooks for a campaign for the price of one core rulebook.

So, back to Shadowrun, which I bought last week and am still pondering. Fourth Edition’s rules are way less clunky, but having digested the material more fully, I think the biggest problem I have with the setting is that it assumes that, without a lot of work from the gamemaster, that you’re going to be a mercenary illegal immigrant in a U.S. megalopolis. Any trip to glistening corporate Japan or the jungles of the Amazon are just temporary gigs your undocumented slum-dwelling sellsword gets to pay the bills; at the end of the day, you’re back in Seattle or Dallas or Chicago or Boston in a crap apartment cleaning your smartlinked automatic shotgun for the next meet with the “Mr. Johnson.”

Having said that, the “I am a rootless armed drifter” kind of story works better for me not in the setting they have, but in another. I’d throw out the entire setting fiction (the year 2070, Dunzelkahn the dragon, the VITAS plague, the “crash of ’64,” south Florida seceding from the already-seceded Confederate states into the Caribbean League) and set it in an “alternate universe past” America of the 1970’s.

I just read Rick Perlstein’s social history of the 1976 presidential primaries The Invisible Bridge, and one of the really interesting things Perlstein points out is how chaotic the years 1972-1976 were for the people who lived through them. The Symbionese Liberation Army was active, as were dozens of other militant groups on left and right. America was discovering that the FBI and CIA were spying on or trying to kill nearly everyone. There was a meat shortage followed by an oil shock. 1974 saw over 80 terrorist bombings.

In short, drop elves and cybernetics in, and the only thing that changes about the 1970’s is people have more to be afraid of.


Ars Magica – German Timeline 1220-1231

I was asked a long time ago, when I mentioned that I include timelines in my Ars Magica adventures, to post some online. Below the fold is cut-n-paste from an adventure set in what Ars Magica calls “the Rhine Tribunal,” a chunk of territory stretching from a little bit to the west of the Rhine River to around Poland in the east.

Caveats: the information below is scraped from Wikipedia and even less trustworthy sources. Because I use a “this is when you hear about it” system for the campaign notes, I’ve lost a lot of the specific dates, so dates are often approximate (or nonexistent) and events late/early in a year may bleed back and forth to the prior/next year as my campaign notes include a one-season delay for information farther than the local area (campaign is set in either Archbishopric of Cologne or Archbishopric of Trier).

In short, don’t use this for your college class. Use it for a roleplaying game with people who aren’t grad students in medieval European history.

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Ars Magica – Timekeeping

So, although I don’t run a campaign right now, my favorite roleplaying game for the past decade has been Atlas Games’s Ars Magica. I started playing it when the Fourth Edition was free, and now I’m deep into the weeds in the Fifth Edition.

The setting of Ars Magica, if I (or Project Redcap) haven’t already gushed about it to you, is Europe, starting about the year 1220. World history has occurred basically as written to that point, except that all the myths of medieval Europe are real in one way or another. There are demons and angels and faeries, and sometimes even dragons. But most importantly, there is magic. Players are wizards (“magi”), their companions (in the Doctor Who sense), and the support staff. Magic takes time to learn and prepare, but when undertaken, it can be quite powerful.

However, due to the grounding of the setting, I have to keep track of what’s going to happen. While the player magi may change the world, they’re not going to change all the world, everywhere, and some of it will effect them. Furthermore, Ars Magica lends itself to being embedded in historical continuity.

In order to do this, I generate years, season by season. A “season” is the standard non-adventure time-keeping unit in Ars Magica; magi literally spend years in their labs cooking things up, season after season, but when necessary adventure out (which, unless traveling far afield, usually takes less than a season).

Some of my early season notes looked like this (for a campaign based off the Dalmatian coast):

1221 Spring

  • What’s everyone doing this season?  The manor house labs are ready!
  • Although food sources are paid for, if the covenant wants to buy/rent land and farm it with laborers for cost savings (see Covenants for cost), let them know of this option.
  • If anyone has communication with mundane clergy, they will learn of the canonization of St Benedict of Nursia, founder of the Benedictine order.


  • A very attractive April.  Not much happens.


  • Two refugees from Venice arrive at Sister Sophia’s [one of the player magi] lab and living quarters.  They are a father and daughter of a trading family allied with Sister Sophia’s, and they have been bankrupted by poor trading decisions and ostracized for reasons they don’t really want to mention. They lean on Sister Sophia’s Christian charity to allow them to stay at the covenant.

Another version (for a campaign south of Genoa) from about the same time has more detail as to what’s happening with covenant (where the magi live) resources, along with world events from Wikipedia:

Spring 1221 (March, April, May) (Vis generated: 5p Creo – rain, 1p Creo – brothel, 2p Vim)

  • Redcap (Magdalena) arrives for regular business, news. She’s kind of a dreamy, faraway type – probably better suited to exploring for new vis sources.
    • The covenant Al-Hadir has evidently lost most of its agricultural lands to crusaders; not clear how they’re getting food or money.
    • Magdalena turned away a marriage proposal from a magus of the House of Benedetto; not interested in marrying into Merinita. Decent fellow otherwise, though; needs a more faerie-like girl.
    • Heard rumors that the fae known as “wild men” are coming back to the mountains.
    • Tractatus from Tulius, if bought – Q 9 in Herbam.
    • Verdi wants terram vis – will trade at standard rates.
    • Gunter of Brest of Unda Scientia wants 1p Aquam in return for a tractatus on Aquam next year.
  • Nizhny Novgorod City (Russia) is founded.

The year sheets above also had standard trading rates for vis, magical energy in physical form, based on assumed market prices. I found that actually not as helpful as my players tend not to trade large sums of vis or engage in vis arbitrage.

My last campaign, set in the Rhine Tribunal, reached the peak of how I thought this should work.

Collect vis collectable in spring (unless player action necessary). Magi determine their lab activities for the season
March 1221
News Received From Mundane Sources

  • The brewer in Bitburg has discharged his current apprentice for incompetence (see below for reasons and repercussions).


  • None of note.


  • The local brewer has had his latest batch of beer spoil. This means that the inn’s usual beer supply is disrupted. The players may just buy more beer (2 mythic pounds) or they can try to use magical means to fix/get more beer.

April 1221
News Received From Mundane Sources

  • From your contacts in Bitburg: The Duke of Bavaria, the Margrave of Baden-Baden, and the leadership of the Teutonic knights are off to crusade in the Holy Land; they set out for Damietta in Egypt earlier this month.


  • None


  • Hartwin is off back to Koblenz for a wedding.  Some among the grogs suggest that, as an honored guest of the covenant, he have a safety escort.

May 1221
News Received From Mundane Sources

  • From the clerk of the Archbishop of Trier – Frederick II has opened a new university at Padua.
  • The carpenters’ guildmaster’s daughter got married last month.  You weren’t invited because you’re not that tight with the folks in Koblenz.  Hartwin was, though, and he thought it was pretty great.


  • Messenger from the Archbishop of Cologne – well-dressed guy with a small military retinue.  Costs one mythic pound to feed him and horses and whatnot.Has a message for the players.


  • Englebert (II), the Archbishop of Cologne, thanks the magi for tracking down who was screwing around with the Abbess of Essen. Asks them, if they wouldn’t mind (“hint hint” – also he has like 20 soldiers already on their doorstep) if they could look into the disappearance of another nun to see if it was a wizard. See New Nun Adventure.
  • May 23 – Short partial solar eclipse.
  • Fair at Bitburg. Grogs who are not out helping the investigation will likely want to go.
    • A younger woman with the fair gets one of the grogs drunk and claims to have married him in a clandestine ceremony (this is not actually true, but unless magic is used to prove it, few will know for sure).  This is a problem because the grog is already betrothed to the daughter of a local farmer, and it will be unpleasant for everyone involved if that doesn’t happen.  The grog will look to the player magi and companions to get him out of this.

My perpetually future Ars Magica campaign has year sheets in this mold as well, plus detailed sections for the adventures.


Welcome to Unserious Gaming, a (as of this post) new blog about roleplaying games!

Soon this blog will be filled with the stories of my gaming group, which doesn’t have a name because we’re not cool or nerdy (pick one) enough to nickname ourselves. We used to run a big Ars Magica campaign, but then we all ended up being more adults with responsible lives, so for the past couple months we’ve been doing pickup games mostly with stuff I grabbed off Bundle of Holding.

We’ll be rating the games, talking about their positives and negatives, and sometimes making inside jokes for our own benefit. I hope you find it entertaining!