Can an apprentice do lab work without the guiding hand of the maga that season? For example, in season one I show my apprentice how to extract Vis from the aura. I plan on reading for the next two seasons. Can the apprentice set up his own vis extraction "for the experience of it?" Of course, I get to keep the few pawns of vis he is likely to produce.
Could an apprentice enchant a really simple item by himself? What if we had already done one in the lab together. (which leads to the question, if we never did enchantment in the lab, would the apprentice have some "poor enchanter" flaw or the like?
I'd say it depends. An apprentice with a Magic Theory of 3 and all his Arts opened can, IMO, do just about anything on his own. An apprentice with lower Magic Theory would require some supervision for some tasks, but if he aided you in the lab on vis-extraction then it's reasonable to say that not on that. An apprentice that hasn't had his Arts opened cannot do anything on his own.
You need a Magic Theory of 3 to set up your own lab, but there is nothing in the rules to prevent someone with a lower score from doing solo lab work. Of course, an apprentice's Lab Total is likely to be crap, so there is not a lot he is going to be able to do except maybe invent some low level spells or extract a pawn of vis.
Fixing Arcane Connections for his master is another good use of the apprentice --- as it doesn't matter what his Lab Total is. Although the master may or may not want the apprentice to know who he is collecting Arcane Connections too.
In the several sagas ive run/participated in, it was commonplace to have the apprentice do things on his/her own in the lab. Once he is grounded in the arts, he has an effective Magic Theory of 0 (or better), he can do this. Best is to use him for activities where Lab total is irelevant. But once he has a fair magic theory, instilling vis into invested deviced has been a common activity, which out old Verditius had his apprentice do.
And if you live in a good aura and have a good lab, even low level arts can let the apprentice do something. Like making minor devices, those things which are easy to make, nice to have, but the master doesn't bother with.
OTOH the master benefits most from having the apprentice better himself im magic theory, so as to be a better lab slave. Or, if the aim is to get the best end result, let him read books on arts.
An apprentice a few years before his gauntlet is not that much less impressive in the lab than a full magus and having an apprentice (even setting aside story or politcal gain) is pretty good investment for at least some wizards.
As a thought experiment I took a Gauntlet +10 year magus I had created and gave him an apprentice and did a "detailed apprenticeship." When the magus does labwork the apprentice adds a decent modifier, and when the magus reads or adventures, the apprentice is crafting items, opening items for the master to enchant, or distilling vis. Around year 12 he is about as good in the lab as a gauntleted magus. Within his magical focus and playing to his affinity he is creating items his master (a generalist ex misc.) can't match. Being taught 1 per year and picking up lots (and lots) of exposure xp in the lab and the apprentice graduates at roughly the same power level as a vanilla starting character. The main reason, of course, is the apprentice doesn't get to read and rarely is taught by anyone besides his master (other than Latin, at the begining of his apprenticeship). And why should he? There is important enchanting or distilling to be done.
So at the end of 15 years, the master has picked up a bunch of Teaching skill, some extra Latin, lots of arts and spells that he probably wouldn't learn without needing to teach the youngling and a shocking amount of vim vis and several small but useful level 10-20 items that he never would have bothered to make for himself but were pefect "craft projects" for the apprentice.
Much better than my prior questioning as to why an apprentice wasn't a full magus by the end of year 6 (when allowed to read at will from the library).
I sense the potential for great differences between a magus created with normal magus creation rules, and one taught through all 15 years of apprenticeship. Depending on how the PC magus chooses to use and teach his apprentice. One season of personal teaching is mandatory - that might be arts or spells - but is the rest of the year spent as lab slave? In that case, quite some Exposure on Magic Theory. But since this has a very low quality compared to teaching or reading, this apprentice propably won't be lots better than a vanilla starting magus.
The apprentice who is taught latin and reading before apprenticeship, because the covenant had him from a young age, and had mundanes for this sort of work, gets a good head start. The apprentice who is used sparingly as lab slave, but allowed (or even ordered) to read up on magic theory and arts, quickly becomes powerful. And if the apprentice is a PC, he would tag along on stories, and pick up some experience here.
This just neatly demonstrates the flaw with the (any, really) gaming system - character generation and the balance of virtues and flaws are there to allow reasonably balanced starting characters to be made. They describe the past and present, but are actually pretty lousy when applied after the fact. An apprentice or indeed any character developed during play with have wildly differing allocations of virtues and flaws, and the transfer of hermtic or supernatural or mundane virtues from pater to apprentice isn't actually possible within the normal rule framework (though HoH:TL did explain how it would work, and was then retconned into impossibility by Mysteries).
For a starting character, Skilled Parens is appropriate to represent this sort of background. For a character developed though play, it's a nice adjective, but it doesn't have much meaning beyond that.
If you "live" the apprenticeship, then you quit the "normal" creation rule... and then you receive skilled parens during the apprenticeship... as it is with character creation (because the +60+30 is only applicable to things during the apprenticeship).
Obviously PC are always better at any age than a NPC of the same age...
1- Because all the NPC i see haven't optimized their skills (some NPC are quite bad and put their mind in books they should have avoided).
2- because NPC receive a fixed amount of experience points, where the PC have access to books/adventure and so on. And if your saga is slow, you have 2-3 adventure/year + 1-3 saisons.
3- Because PCs (or are at least all the PCs i know) are always optimized in one or two things (the +15 LR magus 35 years old, the 35year old peering with 30 penetration, the 35 year old PeCo user with 30 penetration..) and are, from far, better than the NPCs at their age.
Yeah, NPCs are good for stories, but when it comes to contest the PC, they should be older.
So PC's should be stronger than NPC's of the same age in the published material because the NPC's that we've seen aren't made with the same attention to optimization as a typical PC, not PC's should be stronger than NPC's of the same age just on general principle.
Am I understanding you correctly? If so, I can, in general, agree with you. (The words always and obviously tend to raise hackles)
But this is not universal. The NPC's I create are often quite optimized. Some NPCs are former PCs, and some PCs are former NPCs picked up by new players.
Not true. NPCs can study from books and go on adventures just as PCs can. There is no difference in the rules. PCs can also use "bulk" advancement, and NPCs can use "detailed seasonal" advancement.
Some people design NPCs as chumps on purpose, some others get just as detailed and optimized as their player characters.
To each their own, and play the game (or any game) in the style you are used to. However, your assertions are not universal, and the rules do not support the idea that PC's trump NPCs automatically.
Just my two pawns. Different people have different styles.