LINE EDITOR: MMII — MMXV
What follows is, in its entirety, Ars Magica Fifth Edition Line Editor David Chart's farewell letter to fans of this prolific line of game sourcebooks, scenarios, and saga guides. Here at Atlas, we are tremendously grateful for all of David's hard work and exceptional service to the game that he ushered into its fifth incarnation, and wish him nothing but the best in the future. Read on...
At the end of 2015, I will retire as Ars Magica Line Editor. I choose the word "retire" deliberately; I am retiring because I have finished. I have done everything I wanted to do with Ars Magica, and it is time for me to move on, to let people with new ideas guide the game and its world into the future.
I first encountered Ars Magica through the review of the first edition in Dragon magazine. As I lived in the UK, and small-press RPGs were not readily available there in the late 1980s, the first edition I was able to read was the second edition, and I loved it. This was still before most people had the internet, so in 1991, I sent an actual, physical query letter to White Wolf. Mark Rein•Hagen replied, enthusiastically, and the first thing I wrote professionally was 'The Sorceress' Tower', for Ars Magica, published in White Wolf Magazine in 1993.
I contributed to the third edition Wizard's Grimoire, and by pure chance I was online when Wade Racine announced to the Berkeley Ars Magica mailing list that Wizards of the Coast were canceling Ars Magica. As a result, I quickly got caught up in the fan efforts to do something to save the game, including starting a mailing list that we called the Secret Masters of Ars Magica.
That got me an email from the real Secret Masters of Ars Magica, inviting me to join their list. I was added just before an existing member posted saying that I had got caught up in my own ego and saw myself as the great white hope of the game, which taught me the importance of not assuming that you know who is on a mailing list, even a private, invitation-only list. It also got me deeply involved in fourth edition.
When, in 2001, John Nephew asked me if I was interested in becoming Line Editor, I said yes. I started at the beginning of 2002, so when I retire I will have been Line Editor for 14 years.
I came to the job determined to make the game as good as it could be: rules that supported an Ars Magica style of play, accurate history, and historically inspired myth, all presented so as to be immediately useful in a game. After years of writing for the line, I already knew that it wouldn't be easy, but, of course, it was even harder than I had anticipated. To achieve it, I needed to recruit knowledgable authors and keen playtesters. The quality of fifth edition is largely due to their contributions.
The authors had to read large amounts of medieval history, distill it down into a useful draft, design and apply complex game mechanics, revise the draft in line with my comments, revise the draft in line with playtest comments, revise the draft in line with playtest comments again, and in some cases repeat even more times; a few books had four rounds of playtesting. That is a lot of work for a very small amount of money, so I am profoundly grateful for the endurance, enthusiasm, and erudition of the people who have written for me over the years.
Playtesters had a slightly easier role, but, on the other hand, they didn't get paid at all. Their dedication and diligence were also essential to the quality of the final books. The only way to catch all problems is to have a lot of people look at the draft, and the playtesters did that for us, over many years. Sometimes they had to read revised drafts that still contained things they had criticized, because we did not do everything they asked, but their input was essential, and I would like to thank them for all their work.
In recent years, I have felt that my main role was to keep the production system running, so that the authors and playtesters could work their magic and produce the books. In the same way, I want to thank Atlas for not micro-managing me, and for making sure that art, layout, printing, warehousing, and distribution all happened without requiring me to do anything. Sometimes, they went above and beyond, as when they printed a very short run of Apprentices with the dedication to the authors' (and my) children, which had been omitted from the main printing. It has been a pleasure working for them.
Looking back over Ars Magica Fifth Edition, I am very pleased with what we have produced. I think it is a very good role-playing game, with a rich background and effective mechanics. It is not to everyone's taste, but it is what I had hoped to produce. Is it perfect? Of course not. However, I am not sure that we could actually make it better; there are limits to what human beings can achieve.
That is why I am retiring. We have created a game line that I think is about as good as we could make it, and it fulfills my vision for Ars Magica. Its future lies with people who have a different vision, and can bring things to the game that I would not even imagine.
What's next for Ars Magica? Stay tuned! We'll have more news on Thursday...