The Bishop’s Staff

By Michael de Vertueil
Atlas Games
Ars Magica

Your group will be drawn into a dangerous entanglement between the mundanes and the Church. They will find a missing wizard, prevent the destruction of innocents, and investigate a saintly visitation. Multiple mysteries await inside this complete adventure.

This 48 page adventure ises 21 pages to describe seven chapters/events in a mystery. It is an epic shit show the likes of which only 2002 could have produced. Bad D&D adventures can only DREAM, during most fevered opium fits, of being this bad.

Hey kids, wanna game tonight?! I’ve got this great adventure that involves the african slave trade with some some brutal slave punishments, and, fuck it, why not, I’ll throw some rape in also! Who’s up for a game?!

I’ve always loved Ars Magica. I mean, in concept. I’ve never been able to keep a game of it running. There’s always the issue of the knights and followers and power levels and what “adventure” looks like. It’s always seemed a little slow to me. But, in theory, Fascinating! Maybe if it was run more like a LotFP game?

Anyway, back to this shitshow. No, it’s not about the african slave trade I made that up. It’s about jewish wizards. They are moneylenders, of course. Oh, the main guy REALLY loves  money and is miserly. No physical attribute notes, so we don’t  know if he has a big nose. (Ok, I thought to myself, no fucking way they left that out, so I went back. Sure enough, the artwork that is presumably of him has him with a big nose.)  Ok ok, so, the edgelords at Atlas have an adventure his Jerish wizards, who are greedy moneylenders with big noses. Oh, and then there’s the pogrom of the jews in the adventure. I mean, that’s the word that the designers uses. And, to be fair, the action does involve a good riot with burning down jerish peoples homes and killing them, so … yeah, Jewish pogrom! Who’s up for a fun night of gaming?!! I don’t know, maybe I’m just old fashioned, but it I’m not too certain that The Jewish Pogrom playset for Fiasco would go over too well. Who the fuck greenlit this in 2002 and who the fuck greenlit putting it on DriveThru recently? “Well, kids, you see, it was 2002, and all the publishers were edgelords producing crap. And that’s why we have the OSR.”

This is a thing of its time, I guess. The darkest hours before the dawn.

But wait, there’s more!

It is roughly scene based, as was everything at the time. Scene one is a page ong, with another couple of pages of supporting information, about the characters getting an invite to come visit another covenant in another city. Yup, a whole fucking page on what to do if the party feels insulted, what the deliveryman tells them and so on. I weep. Scene 2, a crazy woman yells things at you as you enter the town where the covenant is. This shit is esoteric beyond belief, no three clue stuff here. Scene 3, you have dinner with the other covenant, their greedy big-nosed jewish leader wont give you anything decent to trade with you and a dude in the garden tells you one of their order is missing. FOR TWO FUCKING YEARS NOW. (There is significant crossover to my next rant, so be patient, please.) Scene 4, dude pays for you to stay the night … at the cheapest filthiest place in town … which he owns. On the way you see a hut burning and two kids running away … who are found dead. Let the Jewish scapegoating begin! Cene 5 is the next morning, the mob growing, going back to the compound where youre told that they wish The Missing Guy was here. Scene 6, in the one room basement of the local church, maybe finding the missing guy. Scene 7, assault on the Jewish wizards compound by the mob and/or he general Jewish pogrom in action and wrapping things up. A fun couple of nights of gaming! Oh, did I mention that you will get no help from the local authorities, unless you are heavy handed with the mob, in which case 30 knights show up. Yes, please, quantum those fucking knights in. 

The organization is a shit show also. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Call of Cthulhu is the banner bearer here; just throwing words down on a page with little regard to how they need to be used by a DM. This is worse. Lots of NPC’s a SIX FUCKING PAGE LONG stat block for th head of the order, who doesn’t do anything in the adventure. Background sections that overly verbose and bury any roleplaying notes or important information in MOUNTAINS of irrelevance. The same goes for the main text of the adventure (which, of course, starts with a piece of fiction. 2002, gotta have the fiction piece!) Just mountains of words, which will give you a hardon if you are in to historical accuracy with regard to minor jewish sects but are useless for running an adventure. Which of course means that the sideline action, with your knights and servants, is going nowhere productive since they typically gather information and the fucking information is impossible to find. 

The very first words of the adventure are: Good published adventures are meant to be played and to this end should provide prospective storyguides with all the elements they need to offer their players a challenging and fun time.” Hey! That’s great! It’s then followed with: “This particular adventure, however, is also meant to be a good read. Thereader will share some of the initial confusion, puzzlement and sense of mystery which would confront a group of players.” Ah, so, it’s written to be read, and not played, after all. 

This is $8 at DriveThru.

Because it was on my Wishlist, that’s why. There’s a reason some of shit hasn’t made it off before now.

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8 Responses to The Bishop’s Staff

  1. Sevenbastard says:

    Ars Magica is one of those games that needs a good 7 to 10 session sample adventure. A real banger that shows how it works.

    Instead I think the whole game is a exercise in reading and fantasizing about how cool it would be ro play versus actually setting you up for success in playing.

    • BubbaDave says:

      I think you hit the nail on the head here. Iconic adventures like the Keep on the Borderlands, or the Enemy Within campaign for WHFRP, really define the game’s tone and playstyle. Absent that there’s a lot of floundering, and I think that’s kept a lot of good games from seeing more adoption.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Damn, I didn’t know Ars Magica was so based and redpilled

  3. Jonathan Becker says:

    I own (or have owned)…um, three? Four (maybe) editions of Ars Magica including one that was put out by Atlas as a free game (possibly the best version other than the original 1st edition, which I picked up, used, a couple years ago). I have run or played in (I think) two, maybe three “sagas” (the AM word for “campaign”).

    None of them lasted beyond a single session of play (not counting character creation which takes its own session, really).

    Ars Magica is a game that, perhaps like Classic Traveler (or Mongoose Traveler or probably any version of Traveler) is most fun when used as a “solo game” to piss away hours figuring out how your magi is going to develop over years of studying. It is absolutely crap for long-term gaming unless (*sigh*) you are just really into investing in a character-driven drama like something one might see on certain YouTube channels with certain celebrities playing a certain 5th edition of an RPG. I suppose some people enjoy that kind of play…it doesn’t really turn my crank.

    That being said: I have never purchased or read any of AM’s adventure modules. However, this review gives me the impression that I haven’t missed much.

  4. Nick says:

    One of my most successful and memorable campaigns. What else can I say? Keep it player driven. Keep it folk.

  5. Bigby's Affirmative Consent Lubed Fist says:

    Ars Fascica

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