Best Grog Structure for Opportunistic Covenant

While designing a covenant, I was looking through Grogs, specifically the section on how the grogs are structured, and I wanted to get your opinion on which style (or mix-and-match style) would cause the fewest problems for the covenant in terms of integration and avoiding excessive ill-will towards the magi. The main concern is that the magi here are very opportunistic about recruiting new people into the covenant, especially in regards to soldiers, as they enjoy having a large combat force. Like, if they get waylaid by bandits on the road and can manage to reason with them, they may well have them brought back to the covenant to be whipped into proper soldiers. Which obviously wouldn't be very popular with people who don't trust bandits, which is most people. And so on.

My current thought is a combined military/guild structure. That way the recruits are easier to keep separate at first, and can be more efficiently sorted into their positions in the covenant. But what do you guys think? Any advice?

I have a couple questions about what kind of game your players want.

Do your players enjoy spending time upgrading the covenant? If so, then having them figure out how to integrate new grogs is better than deciding by fiat how it should work.

Do your players enjoy spending time dealing with grog drama, e.g., would it be fun for them to spend half a session trying to deal with a love triangle that's pit the two strongest shield grogs against each other, with the rest of the troops following suit? If so, who cares how dysfunctional the covenant's grog structure is? Make it the magi and companions' problem that the armorer doesn't trust the new recruits and the townsfolk aren't quite as friendly anymore.

That said, there are a LOT of players who will feel sandbagged if something they do that's fun will have consequences later and you don't warn them as it initially happens. I play with a group that likes adversity, so if 5 years after they take in a family of heretics in something that seems like a throwaway event, a whole bunch of crusaders show up asking for the family (who the crusaders have finally tracked down) so they can be put to the fire and sword, my players would say something like, "well, that sucks for the family, but dealing with this is a fun adventure." If your players would say, "seriously? The new awesome blacksmith from two sessions ago means we have to stop doing what we were planning on doing to deal with this?" I would recommend against it.

They don't especially like keeping the covenant up-to-date, though they'll do it (or at least play out a story to find a really competent person to delegate that job to) for practicality's sake.

They do enjoy grog drama a fair bit, but my group is of the variety that will find it getting really old if they need to deal with that every time they recruit new grogs, so I'd like to at least be able to recommend them options that will let them make it a bit easier to handle after the first time.

I think you're basically right that if you have a regimented structure you can "hand-wave" the issues of integrating bandits/heretics/Jews/shape-shifters/etc. into your warband.

I, personally, like consequences, but you can do those in a simple mathematical way. You could have a temporary drop in prevailing loyalty (a rule I generally don't use in ArM as I like the grogs to be more individual) until the folks are integrated.

In your bandit example, you could also give the covenant a negative reputation "Staffed by Bandits (1)" with the nearby peasants, and just let the players know that it will pop up once in a while unless they do something about it (probably something charitable). With a Level 1 reputation, unless they have their new bandit squads being bandits still, it shouldn't pop up enough that it would grind all local mundane interaction to a halt.

Basically, it boils down to how hard you and your players like to have the players work for nice things. If they thought subduing the bandits the first time should be enough to successfully integrate them, and you agree, then a covenant structure that plausibly eliminates future problems eliminates future problems.