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RPG Codex Interview: Ars Magica: Years of Conquest (Now on Kickstarter!)
Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 24 October 2012, 20:37:32Tags: Ars Magica; Ars Magica: Years of Conquest; Black Chicken Studios; J.E. Sawyer
From Black Chicken Studios, the creators of Academagia, comes a single player turn-based computer adaptation of the pen and paper RPG Ars Magica, Ars Magica: Years of Conquest, currently running its Kickstarter campaign. We've been intrigued about it, not least because the world needs more PnP-based CRPGs, and odds are, thanks to Kickstarter the future will bring at least some. So, as usual, we decided to run an interview about it.
For this interview, we have (again) teamed up with Obsidian Entertainment's Josh Sawyer, lead designer on Fallout: New Vegas and Project Eternity and a connoisseur of the PnP Ars Magica, to find out what exactly we can expect from Years of Conquest; the questions in the interview are ours and Josh's combined. How close will it be to the pen and paper game? How will the Covenant gameplay and the combat be represented? And what influence will the folks at Atlas have over the game?
We sent a list of these and other burning questions to Larry Sawh, President/CEO of Black Chicken Studios, and you can read his answers below.
You call Ars Magica: Years of Conquest a "Medieval Simulation and Role-Playing Game." Usually, a CRPG combines exploration, interaction and combat from an isometric or first-person perspective. Will Years of Conquest be a traditional CRPG in this sense, or rather a game in the style of Academagia, with a text-based CYOA-like interface and tons of skillchecks? How different do you want the presentation to be from that of Academagia, and what other video games could you compare it to?
Early next week, we're producing a concept screenshot for a Dialogue, which will show the direction we're taking the UI.
For those unfamiliar with the Ars Magica PnP system, can you briefly present it and point out its main strengths? How faithfully do you intend to reproduce these strengths and the PnP system in general, including the fatigue-based magic system, in your game?
In short, Ars Magica is a role-playing game set in Medieval history, in which you chart the rise and fall (and perhaps rise again) of a Covenant of mages and their underlings. The forces of the supernatural surround you: faeries, demons, magical beasts, and the encroaching world of the mundanes and the Dominion. Every character in the Covenant has a life of their own, with likes and dislikes of their own, and you can play any of them when you need them. Their personalities grow as the years pass, and by the end of every Ars Magica Saga you usually have a story or two to tell about everyone, even the least peasant. The heart of the Covenant is the mages, and each of them are vying for greater knowledge, power and prestige. The magic system is pseudo-scientific, and applies an interesting rigor to spells which you see virtually nowhere else. Your mages can research, study, and distill the forces of magic, creating ever more powerful, useful, or fun spells. Furthermore, via Spontaneous Magic, you can create a Spell to do most anything within the limit of your ability. We could go on and on, but that hits all the key topics. : )
We strongly feel that magic is an omnipresent part of the Ars Magica system, so it's omnipresent in our game, too. Whether you are looking at the Covenant map, in an Adventure, or a Combat, the spells which are contextual to the situation are available for use. And if you don't know the Spell, you can always try it Spontaneously. The Fatigue mechanic (and Twilight, too) are present, per the 5E rules.
To build on the previous question, no matter how faithful the translation, there are always limits to bringing a PnP RPG over to the computer. This is particularly the case with Ars Magica - where putting points in verbs (e.g., "control" or "destroy") and nouns (e.g., "fire", "energy" or "images") allows you to both learn established spells and create your own, and eventually do crazy things like moving mountains or making the sky rain fire - which sounds very difficult to reproduce in a computer game. What are some of the things you know just cannot be implemented in an Ars Magica CRPG?
Ars Magica has a distinctive "wizards as scientists" feel, much more so than something like D&D, by virtue of emphasizing the way a wizard researches his spells and conducts his arcane experiments. How important is that going to be in Years of Conquest?
Can you introduce our readers to the game's setting and backstory? What kind of main plot objective(s) will it have?
Do you plan to implement certámen (ritual magi dueling)? If so, how will you represent it?
Spell botches add a colorful "wild card" element to casting in Ars Magica, but are heavily reliant on storyguide adjudication and imagination in the moment. What role will botches play in Years of Conquest?
The Kickstarter page mentions that your newest engine allows you to implement spontaneous magic. Can you elaborate on how that is going to work?
Companions and grogs can provide some of the most interesting character development and interaction in Ars Magica's "Troupe" system. What role will companions and grogs play in the development of the covenant?
Will the roles of filii and parentes ("children" and "parents" magi) play a role in covenant development, or are all magi of a covenant considered to be free of those relationships?
How will you go about recruiting followers and managing their relationships? What kind of personalities and traits will your followers have?
Traits themselves are divided into two categories: opposing and dramatic (they trigger in any situation.)
How will Years of Conquest's turn-based combat be presented, and what combat mechanics do you currently have in mind? Is it single character or party-based? What are the options the player will have in combat, and how does your environment come into play?
According to the Kickstarter page, "stories, opportunities, armies, and crafty agents of your foes will appear on the world map, and you must decide which challenges to face, and which to allow to go by." Are we looking at an event-based gameplay here, i.e., different events might appear at the same time and you have to choose among them? Does that also mean there will be numerous distinct routes through the game?
Your Kickstarter pitch also talks about "new generations" that arise "as the years age everyone." Does it mean a playthrough is not limited to a single main character, but continues with a new generation? How will the coming of a new generation work?
You can actually play the whole game as a hermit, but we wouldn't recommend it.
In Academagia, the player often had to spend time grinding for specific skill levels. How do you balance the Ars Magica CRPG to make character development meaningful and at the same time avoid excessive grinding?
When you say that "if you really want good results, you'll have to spend some time researching spells, training and developing magic items," it brings to mind the calendar management in Academagia, where training was a matter of selecting an option from a drop-down menu and waiting for you skills to improve, which could be criticized for not really being an exciting kind of gameplay. Will Years of Conquest use a similar system for training and research?
For Years of Conquest, you are working under license from Atlas Games, the publisher of the PnP Ars Magica. Have you already purchased the license from them, or is it conditional on the success of your Kickstarter? How closely are you going to be working with them, and will you have to submit the game's story and design to Atlas for approval?
You also say you will be working with "established Ars Magica authors so that, as much as possible, the game itself can be considered canon." Who are the authors you are cooperating with and what exactly will they do on the game?
To conclude this interview, what have you got planned as far Kickstarter updates are concerned? Do you intend to release screenshots of Years of Conquest's gameplay or UI before the campaign is over? And most importantly, have you got a plan B in the unfortunate case that your Kickstarter falls short of the funding goal?
Thank you for your time.
Be sure to visit the game's Kickstarter page to study the reward tiers and contribute if you'd like to support the game.
We are grateful to Josh Sawyer for contributing to the interview. Special thanks are also due to Grunker and Jaesun for their feedback and comments.