[Montsegur 1244] Cathars burned at Fastaval, Denmark

At this year's Fastaval in Århus, Denmark, I presented my story game Montsegur 1244. A game about the siege and fall of the Cathar fortress Montsegur during the Albigensian crusade in southern France. Or rather, a game about the people trapped in the castle during the siege, of which more than 200 chose to burn at the crusaders fire rather than to give up their faith and return to the Catholic church, when Montsegur finally surrendered.

A total of seven groups played the game at two time slots, with 4 or 5 people in each group. I played in one of the groups, and also stayed around to help out and to listen in for feedback.

The game has no game master and can be played straight from the box with 3 to 6 players. A game takes from 3 to 6 hours. It uses a framing story in 6 acts, each act opens with one player reading of a short text after which each player takes turn in setting scenes that are played out together. It ends with each player telling an epilogue, where the players in turn pick one of three destinys for their main character: Burn, repent, or escape during the night.

All groups had good play experiences, but two groups in particular hit the roof: One was a group of experienced gamers with deep interest in history and religion and lots of GM experience. This group just clicked and played awesome scenes with emotional and deeply tragic endings. This kind of group really don't need much from a game to play well, so let me tell the story of the other group:

The group consisted of four young d&d-players and one older girl. The girl had read the game before play and is an experienced roleplayer (as in not sim, not trad). So her expectations dropped significantly when she ended up with the four boys taking about d&d stuff before play. Well, she was up to the challenge and introduced them to the game. Then one of the boys sets the first scene, the scene in the prologue where a group of mercenaries ride out from Montsegur and kills an inquisitor, triggering the siege the following year. He starts: "Pierre Roger sits at the inn, when his good friend Bernard enters..." He continues this way doing his best d&d sim dungeon mastering. When I return to the room after 5-10 minutes, they still are nowhere near the inquisitor, so I gently interrupt and suggest that he cuts to the action, to where the door is kicked in and the mercenaries face the inquisitor. He objects, "But then the scene will be over in one minute" to which I firmly reply "Yes!". They give this some thought and continue play after a short break. And the magic happens, they click. By the end of the game, everyone is deeply involved in setting scenes and discussing the flow of the story and the motivations of the characters. The four boys had an eye opening experience. One of the boys said afterwards: "It was cool I didn't just sit around waiting to roll my dice". Their d&d game will never be the same. Even the girl had a good time, of course partially due to experiencing the change in play style.

Now, I'm particular happy about this group, because I hadn't at all designed the game to be easy to access for inexperienced gamers. With no game master this can go terribly wrong, but I guess both my part time moderation and the presence of the more experienced girl were sufficient to get the message across.

I didn't win any of the famous Fastaval Ottos, though I got a nomination (for best mechanics). But I got some happy gamers and I saw the game work and I got plenty of feedback from six of the groups. So now I'm keen on keeping the game alive. I've sold four copies for use as teaching material in religion and history in Danish public school (we have a hippie school that does cool things like using rpgs to teach students serious stuff). I just might attempt an English edition, though translation is kind of tedious work.


  • So awesome. Cathars for the win.
  • Congratulations! I'm really glad both games went well. I'm as guilty as anyone of not giving people credit for being flexible, intelligent, and creative at the table, and I'm always afraid new players aren't going to "get" some seemingly esoteric arrangement like leaving out a GM, but it always seems to work.

    I'd take four sales to people who will really play the game over a stupid old Otto any day!
  • Great to see you had seven(!) groups playing your new game. Were there any other actual play snippets or findings from the other sessions you wanted to share?
  • Otto:
    This year showed a very good field. The winner of best mechanics was a jeepform, using singing and dancing. Paper and plastic cannot compete with this.

    Other sessions:
    I got confirmation on replay value all around and feedback like minor adjustment of language to make the text more clear. It was great to listen to peoples war stories and notice how the basic story fragments provided by the game had been extended by the players. Example: One of the characters has the question to be answered during the game: Who is the father of the child, you carry in your womb? There were many great answers to this.

    Also, the game includes 12 roles that are very briefly sketched out. Each player picks one as his main character, the rest are supporting cast. All 12 had been picked for main characters, which I'm also happy about.

    Finally, the bound end game condition seemed to work well. Of the three destinys (burn, repent, run), at least one main character must choose to burn and at most one main character can run. In an early test game, one player had played her character towards a happy ending and ended up being forced to burn which was frustrating for her. So this time I did clearer communication up front that the challenge for the player really is to postpone the decision as far as possible and that everybody must work together to fulfil this rule.
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