Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ars Hermetica

My brother and I have been discussing creating a new game.  The game would be a type of tabletop role-playing game, like Dungeons and Dragons. But rather than just being set in a magical version of the medieval world, the game itself would pretend to be an artifact from that world. What if role-playing games were invented by alchemists in 1200, instead of Gary Gygax et. al. in the 1960s and 70s?
Here are a few aspects of the game we've discussed:
The play would occur within a "memory palace" invented by one of the players.  The Ars Memoria was a classical technique for memorization that involved creating an imaginary city, and populating it with fantastic images, creatures, and monuments, in order to learn something by heart. It became associated with magic during the middle ages.
Encounters would be resolved by various divination techniques.  These could include dice, but geomancy, cards, sheep knuckles, or astrology are also possibilities.  In this period, even games like chess and nine-men's morris were invested with mystical significance and divinatory properties. The players would have supposed  that the events being described were not fiction, but actually occuring in some ethereal world, and that by sympathetic magic, moving tokens about would allow the players to bring about their ends in that other world.
The "monster manual" would be a variation on the medieval bestiary.
The magic system, maps, and so forth would be based on real sources.
The manuals that you would use to play with would all be made to look like ancient books. (Ideally it would all be in Latin, but I think we would have to compromise, here.)

5 comments:

Ds said...

I think that there would need to be a significant amount of protochemistry and physics mixed in with the magic system really blurring the line between reality and story.

You could even make the players do simple alchemical experiments to see if plans were sucessful. For example: agitate 53 drams of sal æratus in an acetabulum of acētī forte and digest for 3 min. Now drop your dice into it. Does it float? If so your plan succeeded if not you failed. This will make a solution with a density of about 1.1g/mL if the dice are made out of PETE or metal or bone they will sink, if it is HDPE, LDPE, ABS, it will float. It will also be giving off gas which could lift some of the more dense things to the surface.

It was also quite common for the alchemists to write everything in code so as to obscure their discoveries. I don't know if you would make the mage decipher the text before they could use a spell. The ability of the player to decipher and break the code for each spell determines how fast they can level.

D said...

I like the idea of an alchemical game. Did alchemists ever engage in direct chemical confrontation?
The alchemists were fond of one type of play that I know of: word play. They called it lusus serius, the serious game.

D said...

Kathleen Long writes in Gender and Scientific Discourse in Early Modern Culture, "These papers suggest a circle of people in France/Geneva who took on pseudonyms [i.e. game character identities] as part of their mutual endeavors in alchemy, and a mingling and merging of identities and names and perhaps a playful enjoyment of mythology in the tradition of what Michael Meier calls the alchemical serious game."

D said...

An alchemical game-master would surely design his game to be a metaphor for something serious.

D said...

Frances Yates makes similar comments in The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. The entire Rosicrucian affair may have been exactly the kind of game the authors in Foucalt's Pendulum were playing at.