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The first brainchild of Over the Edge's Jonathan "I make the cool games" Tweet and Vampire: The Masquerade's Mark "I got a stupid dot in my name" Rein*Hagen was Ars Magica, a brilliant role playing game of Mythic Europe that they unveiled in 1987. It revolutionized game playing with troupe-style playing, sensible character types, the use of real medieval history as a setting and what is still the most richly detailed and well-designed magic system in an RPG today.

Twelve years later the game is still miraculously alive. A lot of this is due to a dedicated and intelligent fan-base: if Ars Magica has a flaw, its people's mistaken belief that you need to know Latin to play. Well, that's just not true -but it is one of the few games that attracts historians, philosophers and non-hacknslashers out of the woodwork in droves.

Ars Magica has seen four different publishers - Lion Rampant, White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast and now Atlas Games, who ironically used to be most of Lion Rampant. Now that the battle-weary game has come home after a couple of near-cancellations, occasional lows and White Wolf's obsession with making the game a precursor to their World of Darkness, new fans can discover Mythic Europe for themselves. It has been worth the wait.

"The Dragon and The Bear" describes the Novgorod Tribunal, which is 13th century Poland and Russia. Unlike most RPGs, Ars Magica researchers know their subjects - Simeon Shoul has done a fantastic job of covering the area, complete with beautiful maps, a complete lineage for the royalty of Poland and Russia and a comprehensive index.

For those who think 'real' history is lame, they have another thing coming: the Mongols. Yes, the basis for so many faceless photocopied barbarians in so many bad RPG worlds are here in stunning, vivid bloody glory, and it is the eminent arrival of these ghastly hordes which gives this supplement its real punch. Past tribunal books have posited plots and historical events, but never with such breadth and depth. No matter where your saga takes place, the Mongols will affect them, and now all the details are in one place.

Also featured are full rules for Volkhv characters, including the entirely new system of magic used by pagan characters that resurrects the old shaman rules from the 3rd edition and makes them shine. I was especially fascinated by the treatment of faerie in the game, which receives an exhaustive treatment - the differing natures of Slavic faeries are discussed, as are Arcadia and the Pagan Gods that live there.

The Verdict

Atlas Games has really scored with their first tribunal book. They have expertly woven Slavic myth and reality together into an excellent sourcebook that will delight any Ars Magica player. "The Dragon and The Bear" is a true cut above the standard locale books in the RPG industry, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in medieval Eastern Europe. If you have never tried Ars Magica before, now is a perfect time - Atlas has a wide range of great materials ready for you to use, and you simply won't find a better medieval roleplaying game.

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