Mathematica is a game about the war of ideas set in renaissance Europe. But in this renaissance Europe, ideas are made starkly incarnate. This is a world where we might see Michelangelo building giant clockwork war machines, Machiavelli training eldritch doppelganger assassins, or Sir Francis Drake on a daring journey to Avalon to consult with Merlin. It's also a world about epic conflict: the Old Church against the upstart reformers, city states struggling for independence against central powers, threats of foreign invasion, the light of science against the dark of superstition (or vice versa).
In each 5-7 session set of Mathematica, the player characters will take a collective stand in the War of Ideas. The stand must be for some idea (e.g. freedom), as embodied in some institution (e.g. the Florentine city state, their family). This is what they are fighting for.
Their opponent (played by the GM), is some other institution whose goals and beliefs are contrary to those of the PCs, (e.g. The Holy Roman Emperor seeks to reunite the provinces of Italy under his crown).
This can be further refined by defining one or more battlegrounds. The battleground determines what kind of conflicts can be expected to play a central role. If the battleground is the hearts and minds of the people, social conflicts will be central. If it's political power, espionage and intrigue will be important. If it's control of the land itself, there will be battles.
Other people and institutions which are not at stake in the War can also play a role. Just because your game isn't about science, doesn't mean that you can't have Galileo in the game. In fact, part of the game will be deciding who the important secondary characters, historical or non, will be.
The fate of the PC's stand will be determined by a series of actions and conflicts that represent the back-and-forth of the two primary powers in the set. Each session will probably include a conflict that will change the battleground in some way. At the end of the set, the battleground will change permanently in some way determined by the winner. Naturally, sets can be played in series, or in a loosely linked ongoing campaign. You could be fighting the shadow war against the spies of the Old Church in Queen Elizabeth's court this month and fighting off the armies of the Khan next month.
The game will also include a scene economy. I'm taking ideas from both Burning Empires and Contenders here. Players will have a range of scene types they can engage in, each type providing them with a different kind of leverage on the game world. In a Eureka scene, a player makes some discovery that adds some new possibility to the War. Michelangelo inventing the tank is an example, or perhaps Francis Bacon discovers the mathematical premise for animating dead tissue with life. Building scenes can be used to make macro changes and apply ideas or skills, building a lunar vessel or raising an army are examples. Color scenes can be used to introduce things or people into the world without requiring a die roll (similar to BE), as well as battle scenes, conflicts, and so on. Renewal scenes will allow characters to heal by renewing their contact with their ideals, loved ones, and so on. Threat scenes will allow characters (the GM being a character) to place other characters' sources of renewal at risk.
The point of the scene economy is for the characters to determine what kind of conflicts the game is going to include and how those conflicts will play out. Let's say you want to play the last stand of a few brave knights against the undead hordes of Cardinal Richelieu. Here are some things you might have leading up to the battle:
- A GM color scene establishes that there's an almost endless horde of undead.
- A player building scene establishes the recruitment of a few of the finest knights in the land to stand against them.
- A player has a renewal scene where they bid their family goodbye, possibly for the last time (healing some sort of damage from a previous encounter)
- A building scene where a leader exhorts his fellow knights (negating the GM's "outnumbered" bonus for the upcoming battle
- A threat scene where we see the poor of the city struggling (and mostly failing) to get out of town before the horde arrives
When a set is completed, based on the final result, the players narrate how the world changed as a result.