Troupes are magical groups found in The League who perform rituals through a tradition of theatrical performance called dramaturgy. A member of a troupe is commonly referred to as an actor even if they do not technically perform on a stage. Internally, a troupe may have all sorts of titles and names, often drawing from theatrical traditions (so a character who works to bring in business for the troupe or presents it in public might be called a barker internally, while someone who organises rituals and encourages practice might be a director).
Magic is a commodity in The League, and magicians are skilled professionals who deliver their services for a steep fee. The troupes are rare - and effective - enough that they can charge high prices for their magic if they choose to do so, and a successful troupe enjoys a lavish lifestyle. Some troupes prefer to perform their magic as they see fit, rather than sell their prowess to the highest bidder, and instead make money through the quality of their theatrical performances. Some actors talk about "the Art and the art", meaning that both theatre and magic are arts and that one is more important than the other. Most agree that the "Art" is magic and the "art" is theatre, but this is by no means a universal interpretation.
Many troupes cultivate relationships with a specific patron or patrons, usually a powerful guild, free company or church, sometimes going so far as to offer their services exclusively to these patrons in return for regular support. Even troupes with patrons usually choose to maintain a degree of independence however - after all no troupe wants to be bound to a faded star, or be brought down alongside their patron if they can avoid it.
Some troupes insist new members swear an oath of secrecy upon joining - the precise details of this oath change between troupes, but the principles are often the same - to protect its members and (most importantly) its secrets. Many troupes are rivals, after all, and being able to offer a rare ritual or knowing a magical secret that can give them an edge is very important.
In addition to magical activities, troupes usually stage plays and other performances, which can prove to be quite lucrative if they are entertaining, impressive or challenging enough for the picky League theatregoers. Some free companies will employ a troupe to improve morale, or to tell great deeds of their exploits in battle. Some churches, too, will employ troupes to perform morality plays, explaining the Imperial Virtues to the layperson, or depicting the lives of Exemplars and Paragons. Just as often, the theatrical performances are an adjunct to the real reason for employing the troupe, which usually involves magic.
It is quite common for a troupe to be paid to craft a short play or piece of verse about a prominent individual who wants some good publicity - or to try and manipulate public opinion against such an individual's political enemies with scandalous allegations, lampoons highlighting their buffoonery and obvious satires. The theatre is a political world in The League, as much as anywhere else.
"I swear to keep the secrets of the Black Dragon Troupe, to tell nothing of my comrades' arts, to protect all of my brothers and sisters from harm and to work only for the good of the troupe, sound in the knowledge that they will do the same for me."Traditional Oath of the Black Dragon Troupe
More information on the League theatrical magic style can be found in the section about dramaturgy.
The troupes work their magic through drama and ritual performance. Their rituals almost always involve elements of movement, the recitation of speeches, and the portrayal of a situation related to the nature of the magic performed. Some troupes work in verse, others improvise and interact with the audience; some use grand costume while others prefer a more simple approach with simply decorated masks and everyday clothes. Whilst there are grand troupes who specialise in doing long and elaborate shows around their magic, the majority of ritual performances are much shorter.
Rituals are woven into plays through the use of key words or movements. Rarely do they look like a magical ritual to an onlooker, because part of the approach is about concealing the real magic beneath a veneer of performance. That is not to say that a troupe might not weave a performance similar to the scene between Shakespeare's Macbeth and the three witches - but that same performance with a few modifications might be used as part of a scrying ritual, a curse or even the bestowal of some sort of boon on an ambitious individual.
The actor becomes a conduit for something else when he or she performs a theatrical ritual. Almost without fail, League rituals are performed while wearing a mask. This has a twofold advantage; it reinforces the presence of the character one is depicting, and it conceals or protects one's true identity from potential mistakes, jealous Eternals or anything else.
A common style for ritual performance is something akin to the theatre of Ancient Greece - two or three characters in masks engage in dialogue with one another, creating the scene through words, stylised gestures and the use of simple props. Other members of the troupe form the chorus, focusing or enhancing the scene unfolding between the main characters. This is a somewhat archaic form of theatrical expression, and sets magical ritual apart from the more intricate, longer and somewhat more informal Shakespearean feel of mundane performances.
Even though the theatrical style benefits from an audience, it doesn't absolutely demand one. A ritual is still a ritual if it is performed in a darkened tent, but the troupes lend themselves to larger, flashier performances.
“Like the finest fruit, the sweetness fades the longer it sits on the platter”The Fallen Herald, Act III, Scene I
Creating a troupe
Troupes provide a space in which to play a group of magicians who have influence in League society both through the magic they call on and the performances they deliver. It is entirely possible to play a troupe that focuses on the more mundane elements of theatrical performance, and simply have fun putting on plays and other performances. Even these mundane troupes benefit from having a few magicians, however, so it is worth thinking carefully about how much magical power you want to start with.
It's certainly possible for a troupe to combine characters from numerous cities, perhaps in a cordial and friendly atmosphere or perhaps with a more volatile relationship, but it is slightly more common for the majority of members to come from a single city. Your troupe will quite likely be based in a single territory - perhaps it is where your theatre is if you have one. When picking a base of operations it is worth looking at a city that intrigues you that already has two or three interesting groups based there but doesn't already have a troupe associated with it.
Not everyone in the troupe needs to be a magician or an actor. Your troupe might have a craftsman who makes props and sets alongside magical implements and masks, or a bravo or two who provides security and makes sure nobody interrupts your performance (magical or otherwise). It's equally acceptable to play a pure ritual group and rely on contracts and negotiation to get the rest of the things that you need.
When it comes to resources, individual members probably want to look at magical resources such as mana sites. One or two of your group may want to focus more on the theatrical site of the troupe, and they have a perfect excuse to pick up financial resources that represent your off stage performances. The ratio of magical resources to financial resources in your group probably says something about your group. It might represent the size and prosperity of your theatre (if you have one), suggest the presence of an NPC patron, or indicate your commiment to magic rather than theatre.
It's theoretically possible to be a lone ritualist, but your magic is likely to be limited in scope. It's also rare for a troupe to be part of a guild, free company or church. Ritualists who are part of another group are likely to be either also part of a troupe, or are seen as being "just" magicians - or even mountebanks - rather than proper League troupe members.
Playing a troupe member
Remember that you're actors as well as magicians. As well as discussing magical rituals, you're free to spend time creating art either for its own sake or (more likely) for money or patronage. You might want to take on a larger-than-life personality that is as much a role as any you play with your mask on, or you may appear to be just another actor, playing down your arcane prowess until the time comes for magic.
You should generally expect to be recompensed when you perform magic for other people - they should recognise that you are providing a useful service, that you are a skilled professional. By all means perform for favour or influence rather than cash, but make sure that someone, somewhere is giving you the credit you deserve for your work. That's not to say you charge someone for every healing spell, or demand attention every time you take the battlefield, but the movers and shakers of the Empire should appreciate that you are using your magical powers on their behalf. Any magic used for altruistic reasons is a great opportunity for good publicity, especially if you make sure everyone knows what troupe you represent.
Don't get too hung up on either the performance aspect or the particular magical tradition. As is mentioned above, it is still a magical ritual if you don't have an audience, and some plays are performed well away from prying eyes. While the majority of troupes practice theatrical magic, it is not impossible to imagine a group that works more-or-less like a troupe does but practices a very different theme to their magic. Keeping the elements of expecting to be paid, secrecy and rivalry with other magicians can help such a group keep the feel of The League.
Here are a number of questions you could ask about the group when creating a troupe. This is not an exhaustive list, but should allow some jumping off points for ideas.
- How are the decisions made? Is there a single leader who makes decisions? Do all members get a vote on what the Troupe does - and are all votes equal? Who handles the money and other resources?
- What is the Troupe's focus? Do you pay more attention to magic or performance? What kind of performances do you favour? Do you specialise and try to be the "best" at one or two types of magic, or are you generalists?
- How do you join? How are new members of the company brought on board?
- What kind of patrons do you cultivate? How does this impact your performances? A Troupe that is attached to a Free Company might have a very different feel to one that seeks the patronage of a Bishop, for example.
- Where are you based? How are the cities of the League reflected in your style and appearance? Do you own a theatre of your own?
- What about when you’re not casting spells? Do you put on theatrical performances for cash? What about in downtime? There's a difference between a troupe that picks only magical resources – mana and library, for example - and one that picks less magic and more “financial resource” to represent a larger, richer theatre that also has political pull.
- What kind of masks do you use? Where do they get them from? Are they antiques, held by the company, or are they remade, year after year, according to the recent fashions?
- How secretive are you? Are you jealous of your secrets? Do you seek out the secrets of other magicians to add to your own? Are you engaged in an active rivalry with another troupe?
League magicians, even those who do not practice dramaturgy directly like to draw on a roster of stock archetypes. Common elements include naming characters after the rivers or the cities of the League.
The Rivers and their Qualities
The four rivers are common figures in theatre. Playwrights compete with one another to include one or more of them in a subtle, unexpected way; challenging their audiences to identify who represents which character. The personae used in dramaturgy are almost always named after one of the rivers, and their name helps define the magic of the ritual they are used with.
- Couros - Languid; Primal; Wise; Crude; Instinctual; Content and Prosperous due to natural bounty.
- Gancio - Capricious; Vengeful; Enigmatic; Ambitious; Quickwitted; Discontent and Prosperous due to hard work.
- Scorrero - Mentally "Slow"; Tenacious; Courageous; Methodical; Humble and Loyal.
- Vassa - Furious; Fast; Foolhardy; Determined; Proud and Vigilant.
The cities of the League often appear in plays. Sometimes they are stand-ins for the Egregore, other times they represent either the people of the city or some mystical "genius locii." Magical rituals that are designed to influence a territory often include a character that represents the city. The most common characters in Tassato usually appears in the form of the rival twins Mestra and Regario, Holberg is usually depicted in armour, Temeschwar in furs and Sarvos in silks.
Other Common Archetypes
For example, if you are about to perform a ritual to grant a soldier or group of soldiers extra battlefield prowess, you might create a narrative in which a band of soldiers from Holberg lead by The Captain using the name Vassa encounter a beast and overcome it with the good advice of The Bishop. Having a basic plot that includes an obvious moment to deliver an enchantment, you get to work with the other ritualists to come up with a few lines and a rough idea of what order things will happen in.