Ars Magica 101: Grogs

Ars Magica 101: Playing Grogs
Ars Magica can be a challenging game to pick up; probably the best way
is to learn from an experienced player or troupe. Some players do not
have that option: this is the first in what will hopefully become a
series of articles aimed at helping newcomers learn the game on their

I learned to play with the First Edition of Ars Magica. In First
Edition, there were no pre-existing players from whom to learn, and the
rule book itself devoted a lot of effort to explaining how best to
play the game. Most of that advice is still valuable and relevant.
This article is partly inspired by the ArM1 book, and partly on insights
and experience from (many) years of playing the game.

This article assumes the reader has read and digested all of Chapter 1
and Chapter 2, and the first four pages of Chapter 3 (through page 20)
of the ArM5 rule book. Later in the article, the reader will be
encouraged to delve deeper into the ArM5 book.

Playing a Grog
Of the three character types, grogs are probably the least like
characters in other roleplaying games. Who would want to play a mere
servant? Yet grogs can be surprisingly fun, if you are
willing to adapt to playing this new role. Over the years, some of
the most memorable and enjoyable characters in my Sagas have been

The first thing you must understand about grogs is their role in the
game and in stories. Grogs exist to help the magi, plain and simple.
A well-played magus has a genuine need for their help - more on magi
in another article. Players who choose to play grogs must accept
their characters' subordinate role. Put simply, grogs must obey.
They must also possess useful skills the magi need, and use them

Sometimes, players feel the temptation to play an insubordinate,
blunderingly incompetent, or otherwise obnoxious grog. This is
inconsiderate to the other players in the troupe. Disruptive,
attention-seeking behavior never contributes to the group's overall
fun. The excuse "I was just role-playing my character" does not hold
up to scrutiny: a player who designs a character to be disruptive is
responsible for making that choice in the first place.

Grogs work for the magi; it follows logically that magi would not
continue to employ grogs who are known to be trouble-makers or
useless. Remember, obedience and usefulness. Those two minor
constraints leave plenty of room for creativity, personality, and fun.

Think about how your grog can help serve the magi on adventures. Fighting
and bodyguarding are a primary function of grogs in most sagas. In
order to do this well, a grog needs access Martial Abilities - meaning one
should be sure to choose Virtues or Flaws such as: Custos,
Mercenary Captain, Warrior, or Branded Criminal. Grogs can
also serve as liasons between magi and the common folk, especially those of
the lower social classes. Companions often serve as the magi's
intermediaries with mundanes, but not all companions can trade gossip
with the local gutternsipes the way a lowly grog can. Grogs can also
serve as guides, scouts, interpreters, heralds, huntsmen and trackers,
spies, couriers, and in many other ways.

First Edition Ars Magica explained that grogs are called "grogs"
because that's what they drink. This is a complete anachronism (grog
is a drink made by diluting rum with water, and probably dates to the
eighteenth century) but fun none the less. The name for a group of
grogs is a "turb," from the Latin "turba" meaning "mob" or "uproar."
The origin of these words is quite suggestive of what grogs (some
grogs anyway) can be like.

Personality is what makes a grog fun to play. Grogs have to serve
magi, but that doesn't mean they have to serve eagerly or
unquestioningly. Imagine yourself in the grog's shoes. You're
a medieval peasant, working for wizards. The Gift makes wizards
creepy: even if you're used to "your" wizards, you still remember back
to when you weren't, and you still know everyone else finds them
creepy. You not only work for those creepy wizards, they tend to drag
you along with them on often strange, usually dangerous, wizardly
missions only they completely understand. Wizards think they know
everything but they obviously don't (for instance, they cannot do
things as simple as renting their own room at an inn, or milking a cow -
clearly book learning isn't everything). How would you, the grog, deal
with living in that situation? For that matter, how did you get into
that situation in the first place?

A grog's relationship with the magi is a major part of defining the
character. Does the grog tremble in fear at the wizards' creepiness,
or secretly scoff at their lack of street smarts? Or does she regard
them as likeable, but somewhat hapless and absent-minded folk who need
someone to look out for them? These are only a few ideas.

If you are using any form of troupe-style roleplaying (see ArM5, page
219) then you won't necessarily be playing the same grog every time
you sit at the gaming table. This gives you the freedom to play up
quirks or frailties you wouldn't want in a more significant, permanent
character. In moderation, this can be a great source of comic

Grogs can be very serious, too: as representatives of the common folk
of Mythic Europe, they can have a great deal invested in the outcome
of certain stories. Ars Magica combat is gritty and brutal; fighting
grogs may have a short life expectancy. Although some players think
of them as "disposable" characters, risking a well-played, well-loved
shield grog in battle can be a nail-biting experience. Even if the
grog should fall, there are worse fates than a valiant death in battle

  • especially if the storyguide is doing her job and makes the
    sacrifice seem worthwhile.

Cool post :slight_smile: I agree 100%. The difference is that around here apprentices and grogs have proven to be the most popular characters: playing the swearing undersdogs is FUN!! :stuck_out_tongue: . If a companion is popular it tends to be becausde he is basically a grog with more V&F.



good post.

A comment that someone made recently that stuck with me is that grogs are like the minor roles in Shakespears plays. They are the Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern to the Hamlets played by the magi and companions.

Everyone loves playing grogs, scene stealing, scenery chewing, way more fun than your full complement of virtues and flaws muckity muck grogs.

Yes, that was mentioned explicitly in ArM1 somewhere (Serf's Parma).

Though I tend to think of them more as Bardolph and Pistol from Henry V than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Hamlet. There are lots of examples in Shakespeare, and indeed a player could do worse than to "borrow" a character concept from nearly any Shakespeare play to make a grog.

Imagine being one of the guards or cooks in Titus Andronicus! For the short version, see Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange in "Titus." Not a date flick, not something to see with an empty stomoch.

Great post!

Even if grogs are really loved by a majority of my troupe I might advertise them a link to your post.

Yeah! I agree as well. And it is how I've often described them to current or prospective players. Not only because arguing anything in a Shakespearean light, especially to roleplayers who often appreciate him (or wouldn't admit not too), adds a certain panache to the argument, but because the image of his 'grogs' inspire to the fun and careless frolicking you can enjoy as a grog character - often free of the heavy austerity or responsibilty of a magus character.

I love Shakespeare and appreciate him more and more as time goes by. His use of 'grogs' being so constantly is an interesting and telling characteristic of the theater of his time.