The Rabenstein Saga: Summary and Reflection
The Rabenstein Saga lasted intermittently from December 1993 until June 1998 in the Triad and Triangle regions of North Carolina, encompassing over 120 playing sessions, 700 hours of actual play, and consuming countless fine beers, Hungarian wines, and apple pies. Jason Buss was the primary storyguide, who invested far too much time and effort to make the history of the region and the stories of the troupe come to life. Ten other players significantly participated and contributed their knowledge and talents to Rabenstein.
Beginning in the spring of 1196 A.D., the Saga describes the foundation of a new Spring Covenant in the eastern spurs of the Alps near the Hungarian border (in the Duchy of Steiermark). The stories span nearly 20 game-years and many varied topics, and make use of expansive House Rules. Did the troupe succeed? Even as the saga ends this matter is still a point of debate. But whether or not they accomplished their desires, the characters and stories took on a richness and authenticity that lives on in our hearts and imaginations.
One of the primary story arcs involved in the saga was the nature of Rabenstein's magical aura. It was eventually discovered to stem from the Covenant's location on top of a former site of worship for the Celtic deity of war and death, the triple-goddess Morrigan (the Celts did in fact exist in this region of Austria, which lies not far from the famous Hallstatt archaelogical sites). The tribe of Celts central to the saga called themselves the 'Boíi', though certainly their term for 'Morrigan' would have been another now unknown word. Indeed the very name Rabenstein (meaning 'raven-stone' in English) takes its name from local legends, obviously connected to the Morrigan, whose symbolic animal was the raven. The Morrigan's powerful presence was felt often in the Saga, leading to the unfortunate deaths of several major characters. Reconciling her powers and desires was one of the primary hurdles straddling the Covenant's difficult journey from Spring to Summer. And perhaps to the chagrin of many characters within the troupe, this dilemna was at last resolved when the magi of Rabenstein consented to appease and honor the Morrigan each Halloween with the sacrificial tribute of a human head. In return, the Covenant was blessed with the favor of the Morrigan, which was manifested in several mysterious enchantments and bountiful harvests throughout the narrow valley.
The only other significant story arc that demands elaboration involved the mysterious creature or demon called Hlavka, which took great interest in one of the young women of Rabenstein, the pretty albeit impetuous Slav Tatyana. Over the course of many years, Hlavka's subtle presence eventually came to menace the entire Covenant itself, as her sinister manipulations and the corrupting liasons she fostered with Bogomil heretics nearly led to the damnation of Rabenstein. In a climactic confrontation with Hlavka, the Covenant suffered the death (and eternal damnation) of several characters, the firey demise of many magical tomes and precious laboratories, and perhaps worst of all, the ruination of Rabenstein's hard-fought reputation among both nearby peasants and their influential liege, the Bishop of Seckau Abbey. Even Tatyana herself (the object of Hlavka's attentions) was slain by the demon, though she stubbornly refused to lose her faith and in the end saved her own soul by giving her life for that of her child.
Detailed descriptions of these two aforementioned story-arcs, as well as a recounting of every story that unfolded in the Rabenstein Saga, can be found in the entertaining adventure summaries. We encourage you to perouse them at your leisure. Note that it is not necessary to know the characters and saga background to enjoy the stories, as the summaries have been written generally for someone unfamiliar with the saga. Feel free to adapt them to suit your own needs, but please give us proper recognition if you intend to publish your versions in some capacity. Although we have only mentioned two central story-arcs, several other interesting stories can be found within the course of the saga. Favorite topics included turbulent dealings with the bewitching apprentice Loretta (begin by reading The Picture of Castellan Demel), a cannibalistic vampyre in the backwoods of the Tirol (read The Lottery of Kalkstein), the lengthy quest for a lost Egyptian relic in Journey to the Greek Islands , the imposing King of Shadows, and the heathen shapechangers of the eastern frontier (begin by reading Law of the Polovtsy).
As the saga ends, battered and weathered by conflict, Rabenstein sadly stands poised to collapse into Hermetic oblivion under the weight of powerful allegations of necromancy and wicked sorcery (gruesome piles of human skulls revealed to the local peasants particularly damaged the repuation of Rabenstein). In the wake of such despicable allegations the Covenant has temporarily fragmented. Several magi have fled into either forced or self-imposed exile, leaving knights and ecclesiastical authorities from the Abbey of Seckau to rule Rabenstein in their absence. And most cruelly, before such harsh order was imposed upon the Covenant, the castle itself was briefly seized by frenzied peasants. Inspired by infernally tainted Bogomil heretics, the mob tragically burned many poor covenfolk upon a fiery pyre as witches, and as a final insult much of the laboratories, library, and magical supplies were obliterated by the angry mob. Yet all hope has not been abandoned, as a handful of politically-minded magi remain to austensibly restore the Covenant to its previous stature within the Order, and surely the Morrigan will assist their endeavor in the coming years in her typically gruesome manner. But heated bickering among the remaining magi about their plans and disparate visions of the future of the Covenant may preclude such success, and even if they succeed in restoring their Covenant, only time will tell if their vile veneration of the goddess Morrigan leads the magi to lose their humanity and imperil their immortal souls.
On a final more optimistic note, with the rise of the famous Hapsburg family of Austria in only a few decades, it is conceivable that with astute politcal manipulation Rabenstein could manage to not only survive, but advance in the coming centuries to become one of the most important Hermetic Covenants in all of Eastern Europe. Clearly that will take some work...
Sadly the saga has been interrupted with the departure of the Alpha Storyguide, Jason, for medical school at the distant University of Pittsburgh, which precludes the regular continuation of the game. Nevertheless, we hope to revisit the saga in future stories on special reunion-occasions to determine whether the Covenant manages to survive, and if so in what image it will be reshaped. Look for a new tale, perhaps set a few years later, sometime around the first of the year (January 1999). Though Rabenstein lies relatively dormant for now, in Jason's absence the troupe continues to play, and has determined to found a new Ars Magica saga set in the same Mythic Europe. Far away in distant northern England, the fate of the covenant of Corona Montis is intertwined with the fortunes of the noble Austhwaite family. Many influences from the Rabenstein saga will be apparent to visitors there.
As all of us who play Ars Magica can appreciate, part of the appeal of Mythic Europe is the satisfaction of drawing upon real historical sources for our stories. They enrich the game and I think have a special fascination for Americans, who yearn to glimpse their past and don't have the luxury of millineum-old castles glaring down at them as they drive to work each morning. As one of our players once noted, searching for an ancient campsite of the infamous Attila the Hun had an immediacy that weeks of storytelling about the quest for an imaginary 'tent of Urgblat' could ever have hoped to inspire. So most of the places in our saga are quite real, from Salzburg and Venice to the shallow reeds of the Neusiedlersee.
And while burg Rabenstein is not particularly famous or well-known (even within Austria!), it too is a real place, and stands at the very least as a testament to our saga as far as I'm concerned.
In July of 1998, I had the great pleasure of traveling to Austria and actually visiting burg-Rabenstein. The experience was incredible, and I cannot begin to convey the depth of child-like curiosity and intellectual intensity that I felt while I explored the site. And perhaps most exciting to me, there were eerie allusions to our stories to be found all over the castle...from a fishpond precisely where we imagined one to be, to abundant and somewhat sinister skulls adorning the walls, black spiral horns exactly like those in Merento's laboratory, Egyptian artwork, and even a mysterious woodcarving of a girl that resembled Lady Loretta (a prominent woman in our saga who harbored a magical woodcarving that preserved her youth). Frankly all that were missing were the three ravens of the Morrigan (which of course must only be absent due to the erosion of the magical aura in this modern era). During my visit I took many photographs of the castle and surrounding area, and once I get them all developed look for some of them to be posted here.
Today Rabenstein is designated as an international cultural property by the Geneva Convention, and it is consequently protected from harm or use by military forces during times of war. In the 18th-19th century it was privately owned and used as a hotel, but today the small castle is owned by the Austrian Government in a specific capacity unknown to myself. Apparently an official from the nearest town of Frohnleiten (a scant 3 kilometers away) presides over the castle and maintains its appearance. In summer the castle's courtyard is used by a local theatre group to present original dramas by Austrian playwrights. I was fortunate enough to watch just such a performance and thereby gain admission to the castle (which is normally locked to the public).
Rabenstein is in immaculate condition, with magnificent lush flower-gardens and a fishpond in its courtyard, a freshly painted edifice, and a thick old-wood forest surrounding it on the steep hillside. And the Roman ruins, though crumbling and decrepit, still surround the rocky perch and stand majestically over the narrow valley (from their summit I watched a beautiful Alpine sunrise). But in hindsight, having walked with trepidation along the footpath to the castle late at night, I should have made those bravery rolls for the characters somewhat higher! For Information about visiting Rabenstein and nearby accomodations, contact: Frohnleiten Informationskiosk des Tourismusverbandes am Tabor, Tel. 03126-23-74
-Jason Charles Buss
This page last modified 10-Jan-99.
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