Rule Zero of Arius: the Ashen Age is “Do not let the rules get into the way”. Rule Zero trumps all other rules. Rule Zero and Half is “Don't take it too seriously”. It is just a game.
If the game gets lagged due to confusion about the rules, wing it and check it later. Don't stop the game to inspect the rules, keep the game moving. If a certain rule seems too bulky or complicated, change or dump it entirely. If you disagree with the ruleset on a fundamental basis, feel free to use some other game system entirely. The main content of the game is the twisted world of Arius – exploring, investigating and partaking in it. Players and the GM should seek to do this in a way that is enjoyed by everyone involved. The game master should generally reward players and characters for being creative and cunning in solving challenges, even if they don't follow the rules to the letter.
The philosophy behind the game mechanics is to portray the world of Arius as it is. You can assume the game world functions exactly as the rules tell you. This includes certain amounts of weirdness. These things are not bugs but features. There is something wrong in the world.
When playing with heroic or grim rulesets you must decide how their effects are felt inside the game world. For example, do the heroic rules apply to all daring characters in the game world or just the players?
If you want to share more power between players and GM, expand the usage of Advantage Points and be liberal in giving more. Plot Generator is another excellent resource for shared storytelling type of game.
Combat rulez blah
Not every conflict needs to be solved at a blow-by-blow basis. Only dramatic and meaningful battle should be fought in details. If the fight would be just a chore, you can abstract it into a single roll. For example, leading an angry mob to storm a manor could be solved with a single Leadership/Tactics check. As another example, a bar fight could be done with a single Unarmed/Alertness check. As long as player characters are not killed through one check, this kind of approach aids the flow of the game.
Designing & Starting Campaigns
Arius: the Ashen Age can be used for playing individual scenarios, but it has been designed for campaigns taking dozens of sessions. Before starting a campaign, it is imperative that the GM decides what their world of Arius is like (see the questions above). This process should include the players and their preferences.
Before characters are created or the campaign starts, the GM should host Session Zero. Session Zero is a discussion about the campaign and its content. Every player should have their voice heard and acknowledged. This is especially important when forming a new group, but you shouldn't ignore it even with old acquiantances. Even people who have played together for a long while might assume things of each other that are not true. A good session zero handles at least the aspects listed in this chapter.
What kind of content do we want?
Even if the GM has a clear vision of the campaign, there should be space for player input regarding the setting. For example, maybe the campaign concept has the Shepherds hunting a serial killer that exclusively targets priests. The players could then choose whether they'd prefer hunting the killer in a rural setting, in a bustling metropolis, a frozen wasteland or even haunted ruins. The GM can request the whole group to answer the world choice questions (pg XXX) as well.
Of course, the main choices are the genre and content of the game. It is important everyone is on the same page on the tone. Are you playing a horror game, a detective series or a combination? What about politics and intrigue? Theological debates? Epic plots or gritty and petty crimes? How much action is there going to be (combat and otherwise)? Will the campaign feature frequent trials? Should the GM play hardball and use every opportunity to get the player characters in trouble or be forgiving? Discussing these questions guides what kind of characters players will create and what they expect.
Another important topic is the style of play. Are you going to play a fun game where nothing is taken seriously? Will it feature serious character drama or light character interaction? Heroic deeds and tales or gritty and dark stories? Is conflict and betrayals between player characters okay? How are secrets handled between the players? What is the group's take on out of character information and off game discussions? Will all player characters get the occasional spotlight moments where their character is at the focus? These questions guide how the players should behave and what their attitude towards playing should be.
There are many other questions that might be good for your group; but the listed ones should at least be touched to set the expectations at the right place for everyone.
What kind of game mechanics support the game we want to play?
After the tone and genre of the campaign has been chosen, the group should pick what rules they will use to achieve it. This doesn't require all of the group to know all of the rules; a feeling on what is desired is enough.
For example, how powerful are the characters going to be from the beginning? Are you going use the Madness Meter or Vices & Virtues? Can players take potentially campaign-altering Curses for their characters? (Cursed, Enemy, Hunted) How mundane or special are the characters going to be? How deadly do you want combat to be? Are wounds easy or hard to heal? Is Influence going to be important? Do you want to use background resources (page xx) to give the characters stronger ties to the location of the campaign? Does the group want to coordinate something about their characters or is everyone going to do their blind?
Again, there are many choices to be made here, but these are the basics that should be covered.
What things are off-limits?
This topic can not be undervalued or ignored even with a group you've played with for a long time, as people and life situations change. Every group should be on the same page on what they don't want to see in the specific campaign. This doesn't necessarily reflect the realities of the game world. For example, sexual violence is likely something that happens in the broken, destroyed world of ARIUS. There is still no need to use it as an element within the game. (And it is not mentioned or brought up in this book in any other segment.) As a storytelling element it creates very little but shock value and can easily cause anxiety or worse.
The best way to avoid unnecessary conflicts and weird situations is to directly ask the players what they don't want in the game. What things they don't want to see in the campaign? What behaviour is simply not allowed between or by player characters? What kind of things should be left out of the campaign content?
Every player should be able to voice a topic, action or behavior that they don't wish to experience in the game. Discussing the subject is not a vote! Every player has a right to choose what the game contains. This includes the GM, who are encouraged to bring in at least some topics they don't want to face in the game.
When discussing the limits of the content, the group should further establish the level of safety regarding them. The tightest level includes off-game banter and character backgrounds; a certain topic is simply completely cut off from the table. A medium level means the topic won't be touched in-game and no such content will be brought in by the GM. A light level allows the topic to happen inside the game, but such scenes will fade to black, skipping the descriptions and the scene itself. This can be a good way to handle sexual scenes or situations where, for example, a character is violently interrogating a suspect.
If discussing these topics seems too intimate or intimidating for your group, you can collect the information anonymously by using one of the many survey services online. This discussion can be used to cut out or change problematic content of the setting. ARIUS the Ashen Age takes place in a dystopian world but it is not necessary to make it so grim it becomes unpleasant to play.
The aim of the discussion is not to censor the game or gag any individual player. Rather, it should be a way to build mutual understanding and trust. Discussing the topic in some way - anonymously or face to face - is the mature way to avoid problems before they happen. It makes the gaming better for everyone involved. Assuming that everyone have the same limits can lead into very uncomfortable situations.
How do we play?
While perhaps an obvious topic, the group should agree on rules regarding attendance and session expectations beforehand. For example, if the group has five players and one cancels, is the session cancelled? What is the minimum number of viable players? Do player characters get experience for sessions the player missed? What happens to the characters whose players are not present - are they sent on errands elsewhere, used as NPCs or something else? Is it okay to replace a player if they miss several sessions in a row? Is there a regular game day or is it agreed separately each time? Usually, it is advisable to mention that ghosting is not okay and players are expected to let the group know if they can't make it. Likewise, if you run a game with an open table where people can pop in at moments notice, it is good to know in advance.
Suggestion: how to build the group?
Once the other topics has been deal with one remains - how did the player characters become an operative group within the Shepherds? While the actual storylines are left to the group, there are two suggested methods for introducing characters.
Three rumors method is appropriate if the characters don't know each other intimately before, but have some points of connection. In this method every player should come up with three rumors about their character. One of these rumors is hundred percent true, one is a half-truth and one is a complete lie or misunderstanding. Other players shouldn't know which of these stories is which. All rumors should be connected to the past and the present of the character somehow. In the first session, every player should tell the three stories before the group is assembled in-game. Alternatively, GM could run small introductionary scenes where the rumors are told by NPCs.
Example of rumors: Sister Selene is a nun of St. Barbas, who is from a noble family and became a Shepherd to escape the restrictions of her gender. In the past she was badly wounded in an accident where a gunpowder barrel was ignited by a spark. She is a skilled surgeon and compassionate for a Shepherd. Her first rumor is "Sister Selene was badly hurt when she heroically saved wounded soldiers in midst of a battle" (half-truth, she was wounded but it was an accident). Her second rumor is "Sister Selene has been implicated for maltreatment of patients on purpose when they are not pious enough" (an outright lie or a misunderstanding). The third rumor is "Sister Selene is highborn and gave up an enormous fortune to become a Shepherd" (truth as she is from the high nobility).
Flashbacks method is meant for groups who have a long history together. Instead of telling what your characters have experienced together, why not show it? In this method, every player takes a turn acting as a GM in a completely narrative scene. No rolls are made. Instead, the scene takes place in the past and tells a short story about an experience shared by all characters. The player whose turn it is uses the scene to show something important about their character. The scenes can be short (less than an hour) scenarios or just slice of life kind of event. These stories can take most of the first session in the campaign to create a sense of shared camaradie and past.
For example:Brother Argento is a hot-headed swordsman who is bitter at the incompetent officers who got so many of his comrades killed in the war. Argento's player could set up a scene where the group takes part in a social event, mingling with nobility and officers. Brother Argento happens upon an officer he knows from the war and overhears him bragging of heroics in the war, while badmouthing his soldiers. This enrages him and he storms towards the officer, intending to either knock his lights out or to challenge him to a duel. (This shows what kind of temper he has.) Other players can tell react, showing how their characters would partake. Maybe they stop Brother Argento, maybe it turns into a duel, maybe they come up with a better plan to knock the officer down a little. In the aftermath, Brother Argento might tell about the soldiers the arrogant officer got killed, further opening his past. (This shows that he was in the war and how it left wounds that still haven't healed.)