"Ars Magica" is set in mythical Europe, which is nearly the very same as the medieval Europe we all know, except that in this world magic is real (and the players generally play characters who are mages). Unlike games in pure fantasy settings, however, "Ars Magica" is expected to stick pretty closely to our own historical world. The game I saw (I was able to participate a little) took place in Germany, along the Rhine in the 13th century.
I was struck by how much more educational this tabletop RPG was than any MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online games are the online roleplaying games like Everquest and World of Warcraft). Because of the collaborative storytelling aspect, tabletop RPGs allow the players to be more deeply involved in the creation of the world in ways that MMORPGs cannot allow. In the game I observered, the players and GM had the following discussions about the 13th century Rhineland:
- How does one arrange a dowry?
- How much would a dowry cost?
- How would one initiate contact with a high-ranking Church official?
- How would one initiate contact with mid-ranking nobility?
- Would a mill or a forge be more effective for starting a community?
- How fast would river travel have been?
- How far and fast could a medieval peasant walk?
- If there had been mages in the 13th Century, would they have pronounced Latin in the Classical way or the ecclesiastical way?
One last note: As I mentioned to the players, I have seen real medieval codices of "magic," and they were far less complicated than the magical practices outlined in the Ars Magica books!