Apprentice saga in Scholomance or Thebes?

Hi, I would like to ask for input on starting an Ars Magica Saga where players start as apprentices in a school such as Scholomance. This would be for four players; one with experience with the system from versions 3.0 to current, one with a few months experience in the current version and two players new to Ars Magica (but with prior RPG experience). I've played since Ars Magica 2.0. Here are some particulars:
PARTICULARS
(A) The PCs will all be apprentices for different houses training at the school for a reason that will tie into the story arc and be discovered later
(B) Starting age will be 6 to 8 years old with one story per year
(C) Whether it is Transylvania or Thebes will be decided by consensus after discussing setting and themes together
(D) Ideally, 12 of the stories will be tied to themes connected to a House to allow players to see which ones they like
(E) Training will be one season of training by the parens or foster parens, one season of duties determined by the same, and two classes that will have some mandatory (to get to minimum requirements) classes and some that will be picked by the players
(F) Ideally, I'd like to include some exposition about each Tribunal or have something that shows up that displays a Tribunal and its themes

The new players will learn that this is a highly unorthodox apprenticeship and they are the first 'test run' for the Order. Starting this way should allow players to learn the game gradually and learn more about the setting. After the run is over, the players can decide what Tribunal they would like more stories in and then I can develop a story arc there (while somebody runs something where I can play for a bit😊).

Has anybody had experience with something like this? Any ideas on things to include, story hooks, etc? The books Apprentices and Grogs will get quite a work out but hooks especially involving Houses and themes of Houses would be very appreciated.

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One other item I should mention is that as the new players learn the system there will be grog and companion stories to show part of their society and get parts of the story arc I decide on showcased to the players that they would not otherwise see. As the magi get older, I plan on having it be 2 magi 2 companions in a story but, with the new players, I'd like them to have a bit of exposure first so they can develop companion and grog concepts they like.

Thebes has polyaigos, which is an hermetic pre-apprenciseship school where all apprentices go to before they are picked by a master, but does not have a canon school for apprenticeship years. I've ran a game in the Theban tribunal that started with apprentices, in a homebrew covenant whose purpose was to train magi to found new covenants for the Order. They had some peculiar apprentice-rairing program that was intended to help a group of players be able to found a covenant post-gauntlet. if you have interest in more details... let me know.

I'm definitely interested in more details. If you could share them here or via DM, I'd appreciate it. Also, what type of story hooks did you use?

I'm no expert, but if you set it in Transylvania, then you have the Tremere elephant in the room, don't you? I think it depends on how much politics you and the players want in that, as well as concern about other schools thinking of what the Tremere want/expect from this.

Yes, the politics would be one of the themes I would discuss with players. I've played with this group for a few years so I think they would enjoy that. I like the Tremere theme of 'doing the right thing for the wrong reason' and, in 5e, I play the Tremere house as looked upon warily but other magi in general know that if a deal with a Tremere mage is reached, they can seek recourse from House Tremere who will enforce the deal. Being so hierarchal, in my usual sagas, also means being a member of the House means the other magi view you as a representative of the House so House Tremere ensures its deals are followed. Right thing (honoring the deal), wrong reason (because it increases political capital) once again.

I'm going to argue for my parish but if you want the PCs to play apprentice and to have a chance to choose their house / mentor, canonically, it's in Thebes where appentices have a meaningful choice of mentors, unless you rework the setting significantly of course.

I'm not really going to rework the setting as much as make their apprenticeship an unorthodox, literally first of a kind experiment, as such. Both Thebes and Transylvania are really good settings and I think it would be interesting. Some magi, well, many, would push back on the experiment as 'that's not the way we do it!' while some would be supportive. I was thinking when the PCs are older they could hear rumors of this conflict and then they could decide what to do or if they want to be involved. My style is I have a story arc when I run games but I keep things very sand boxy, modify the story arc due to player actions, and run side arcs about things the players express interest in.

Also too, I just saw I was granted personal messaging so any insight on what you did would be really appreciated.

My group has been doing a partial implementation of a "Magi School". We have pre-apprentice schooling (open to all children of the Covenant) which teaches the basics of Latin, Artes Liberales, and Philosophiae (at 2, 1, and 1 seasons). There is also more advanced classes which cover the varies Realm Lores, Medicine, Magic Theory (low level only, Teacher only has a 3), Prof: Scribe, and Teaching among others, which are normally taken by Covenant members which these skills would be useful to their profession (including Apprentices). There is also training which can be taken with the Turb, with most Covenant members taking a season or two (to at least learn Brawl). Wrestling is a popular part of our Covenants yearly festivals.

We have three classroom "Labs" setup which are used for this, as well as when Magi teach multiple apprentices. These are normally taken up by 6 seasons from our Teachers with the remaining 6 open for others. Teaching is both a common action from our Magi even if they do not have a current apprentice (it counts as a season of Covenant Service), as well as having guest teachers (a season of teaching provides access to our Library). If a Magus takes on an others apprentice for fostering, they are expected to provide at least one of the year long teaching in a classroom open to other apprentices at the Covenant.

One side effect of all this is that apprentices end up far more skilled and advanced than any built using the default rules. By default an apprentice ends up with 15 seasons of Magus teaching and ~45 seasons of exposure (though several of those might be swapped). A fostered apprentice ends up with 21 seasons of Magus teaching and ~39 seasons of exposure (again with many possibly being swapped).

Our method often results in 4~6 seasons of pre-apprentice teaching, 0~3 seasons of pre-apprentice Turb training, 20~30 seasons of Magus teaching, 10~15 seasons Specialist teaching, and 15~30 seasons of exposure. Worst case results in north of 400 XP for the apprentice years (plus pre training), while best case resulted in nearly 800 XP for the apprentice years (plus pre training). Then there is the year or two of post Gauntlet teaching for Magi who are staying in our Covenant so that they can be inducted into our Covenant's Mystery Cult (along with our house ruled automatic Language and Area Lore exposure rules).

Even with average quality teachers, you will most likely easily end up reaching our worst case (400+ XP). Follow up games with Magi produced using the normal rules can result in them feeling like the characters are weak, especially if some of them play their apprentices from this game. Just something to take into account.

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This has been discussed in this forum a few times.

Some argue that such a school is practically impossible, due to the negative effects of the Gift among apprentices. Apprentices do not have the protection of the Parma, so won't get along with each other or with mortal students.

I don't agree with that opinion. The lecturing mage can extend Parma over a limited number of students, which encourages adherence to lecture and other mage-present gatherings. Rigorous social skills can moderate the impact of the Gift. I also regard the negative influence as less overwhelming for the ordinary Gift than others - the Blatantly Gifted are a different issue.

The Parma would have to extend over non-Gifted students, too, if there are any present.

Even if the Gift is as disturbing as sometimes claimed, I'd think the Jerbiton would have been running a school for some time, considering they are almost entirely Gently Gifted.

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First thing, for my Thebes apprentice game, all of my players were brand new to Ars Magicka. So the apprentice game was a method for me to teach them the system. I went with an alternative character creation method, in that I didn't open the book and start looking things up. What I really wanted was to ground the characters in the setting rather than have the players create archetypes of magi that would best fit under the game system, and potentially spend time building a character with errors I knew they would want to fix 2 games later. So my players had about the same knowledge as the apprentice characters.

Character creation was done step by step with choices:

  • I had the players pick their sex;
  • I had the players pick origin stories. This would give them their childhood years, base language, and sometimes flaws. The origin stories I had were:
  1. Greek, working class background
  2. Greek, from the border (Epiros-Serbia, Macedonia-Bulgaria or Lydia-Lycia)
  3. Greek, covenant upbringing
  4. Greek jew - outside flaw
  5. Greek military family
  6. Greek homeless
  7. Greek with sheltered upbringing
  8. Greek wealthy family w/ social or athletic background
  9. Greek leper - character would default to tytalus later
  10. Born in greece from a crusader
  11. Born in greece from a venetian merchant
  12. Born outside of greece, gypsy lifestyle
  13. Born outside of greece, merchant background
  14. Born outside of greece, nomad background - vlach
  15. Troupe upbringing
  16. Feral upbringing
  17. Faerie upbringing
  • I had players pick whether they came from a specific lineage. This included the following options besides None:
  1. Dynatoi: Privileged Upbringing / Heir
  2. Giant-blooded (greek) - mythic blood / see insert in TSE;
  3. Non-Greek giant-blooded;
  4. descended from a legendary mage: Mythic Blood;
    5: From a Sybil - premonitions;
  5. From the first race of men created by Kronos - Magical Blood
  6. From classical heroes (Achilles, Dedalus, Helen of Troy, Orpheus, Heracles, etc) - see TSE
  7. From a faerie: Nymph, Satyr, Sidhe, Undine, Samovily (bulgarian border background);
  8. From a women cursed by Hera - monstrous blood
  • Then we discussed how they were discovered, turbulences, how their gift manifested.
  • I asked if the players had an idea of whether they wanted to explore a specific side of magic. Based on the two above points, I might suggest virtues;
  • We did attributes
  • I explained the Gift, and had them decide whether it was important to their character concept at this point to have Gentle or Blatant Gift;
  • I discussed virtues and flaws affecting learning, and suggested the players let me know if they wanted something at this point, explaining how much they can impact gameplay;
  • Child virtues were handed out to balance the flaws or virtues my quiz gave them. They would have a few games to come up with additional virtues and flaws as they learned to play and read the books.
  • Characters were ironed out: confidence, apprentice status, personality traits, etc.

Then we started playing from the point they were discovered, and how they were put into contact with the redcaps and Polyaigos, the pre-apprentice school. I asked the players how many years they were at the school before they became an apprentice, then I described their tuition, introduced ars magica skills like artes liberales, etc. and handed out experience. This portion was rather fast-forwarded, but I did spend some time describing the school and having the players make choices. Typically, their first years were spent learning Classical Greek, Artes Liberales 1. Extra years could be spent learning as a scholars - Latin, Philosophae, more Artes Liberales - or from the military school learning Ride, Athletics and martial abilities. I was more generous with the experience than "Later Life" typically considers, assuming they were with qualified teachers in a group of other apprentices, probably 7 or 8 xp per season. Roughly so far, this corresponds to game 1.

Then we did the pre-Tribunal (game 2) where redcaps would explain what was ahead of them, I described their arrival on Delos, and we played out the Interviews with Apprentice and each player had a few roleplay scenes with 2-3 magi that I thought would be interested in them as apprentice due to the combination of background, virtues, flaws, personality traits, etc. Assuming the interview didn't go badly, the player received a bid for tokens and eventually chose who would be their mentor.

As a deus ex machina, of course, all players ended up at the same covenant, and the NPCs they met weren't canon NPCs, but made up NPCs, so I could assemble the covenant that would host the apprentice games from the masters they picked.

In the Theban Tribunal, each covenant has a covenant Patron, and a stated role or purpose. As such, my made-up covenant had the purpose of facilitating the creation of new covenants. How they did this in practice was by taking apprentices at the same time, so they would have a group ready to go out in the world. Another way this was done in practice was by using player seasons during their apprentice period to prepare the future covenant. One season per year was dedicated to being taught, 1 seasons per year was dedicated to helping their master in the lab, 1 season per year was dedicated to "community work" (copying summaes and lab texts, fixing arcane connections, and whatever else your apprentices can be told to do), and the last season depended on their master - I used that fourth season to compensate for the mentor's strength - those who had a young parens who typically get given a book, have a practice, travel or free season every now and then, and those who had an elder magi ended up with another lab season since their teaching season was that much better. This means I haven't used virtues that represent learning at all (weak/strong parens, etc.).

The stories I ran varied a lot by age. They had some stories at the covenant, a few running errands for their masters in town, a lot of advancement and teaching roleplay (incidentally learning the game), and in the pre-gauntlet years when they were starting to be decent characters even if without parma magica, I had a travel story that was more dangerous, with protagonist faeries and a young post-gauntlet magi stirring trouble.

The community work seasons gave them their starting covenant's resources, after they all went through the gauntlet: Books and lab texts they copied were theirs to keep, and seasons spent helping the old covenants with chores like fixing an arcane connection would give them a budget of mythic pounds or vis. How they spent those seasons determined what they had. They had no vis sources from this, however, and were expected to find their own after setting up their covenant. After gauntlet, we played out their research for ancient destroyed covenants, potential magical auras, etc. They had several sites to investigate, and settled down after exploring one or two, and finding one they liked. Their masters did help them figure out how to draft a charter, and what they should think of doing in their first year or two of building a covenant, but mostly they were on their own by that point.

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Awesome, thank you

Two things: First, remember, between two gifted people the gift goes both ways. They almost alwaystake what you said in the most negative light and you almost always take what they said in the most negative light. Between two relatively young people who don't really have an understanding of what is going on this is a serious impediment. I don't think it's completely impossible but I think it definitely lends itself to those apprentices becoming rivals, bullies, and other antagonistic relationships to each other.

Second, I don't see Jerbiton that way at all. Yes, people within the house go to great lengths to find Gently gifted kids but there are other sorts they would seek out. For instance those that seem to have great academic or artistic potential and family members (grand-neices and nephews or their own children) for those hopeful parens who maintain a link to their own (often noble) families. Kids that fit any of these bills are as likely to be gently gifted as any other gifted child, which is not very likely. Yes, almost all Jerbiton PCs end up being gently gifted but I hardly think that should be the house as a whole. Definitely not more than 50% though in Thebes it might be higher as the apprentice selection process allows for selecting for that sort of thing much more than traveling around yourself and looking for any gifted child.

Nice. Since you first asked this question I've been dreaming of a similar game though I would not have them at the same covenant and my thinking was randomly generate a "central virtue" for each child. Many of those would be Hermetic or Supernatural Virtues but anything that might be something to base a character around could work, like Free Expression or True Faith. I thought about even keeping the Hermetic virtues secret from the players since their arts weren't opened yet and describe the virtue in vague terms like "good with plants" for affinity or puissant Herbam, something a Pralician might be able to determine for the benefit of the hopeful parens. I scrapped that idea because the idea that the players don't know this central thing about their character when deciding which to pick seemed a bad idea from a "fun for players" perspective. I still liked the idea that there were a bunch of children to choose from who had a random central virtue but figured it would be best if that virtue was known by the player when selecting.

I'm pretty against the "a bunch of newly gauntleted magi set off to form a completely new covenant" saga start so my conceit was that shortly before their final Tribunal as an apprentice a magical accident would happen at a covenant and to keep that covenant from folding the one surviving member would ask these new magi to be sent there. My initial thinking was reusing a covenant from an old saga I was in on the Island of Nisyros which has a titan trapped underneath it, Polyaigos. Similar to the covenant of Qui Sonant Pro Quieto in Hibernia their covenant task would be to keep it where it was lest it get free and cause havoc in the tribunal and possibly beyond.

Anyway, I like the idea. Damn I love the Theban Tribunal.

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