Covenant Creation

Hey guys, I'm hoping someone can help with the Covenant creation.

It seems to me the rules are a little, shall we say "hazy". Before I get ahead of myself, it maybe the way it’s written, it may be my misunderstanding, but there appears to be a lack of cogency in the way the rules work. By way of passing note, I’m not entirely sure of the logic of some aspects being purchased with Build Points and others with Boons/ Hooks (which in my view may contribute to the problem). Ok so here goes:

  1. Covenfolk: How many do you start with, how much does it costs and what are you paying with? So Covenfolk includes Craftsmen, Dependants, Grogs, Labourers, Servants, Specialists and Teamsters (Cov, Pg 63). On Covenants Pg 5 the "Baseline" for Covenfolk per Magus is 1 Grog and 2 Others (the example stating such as Servants, Labourers, Teamsters and Craftsmen. But here are the problems:

[tab][/tab]a) Baseline: Although this is an “approximation”, this is to some extent contradicted by the minimum required Servants and Teamsters (Pg 64). For example, if you take a standard Covenant (6 Magi and Grogs), were you to select 1 Craftsmen or Labourer, you would need a minimum of 8 servants (rounded up) and therefore 5 Teamsters for a total of 14 Covenfolk (2 more). This works for any other combination. In other words you cannot have a Covenant with the Baseline unless you have no Other Covenfolk besides Servants/Teamsters. The Baseline is described as an “approximation” of the number of inhabitants. However, in truth it is not an approximation but an absolute minimum (which in most cases is only a theoretical minimum). Ok, hair-splitting I hear you say. The importance I hope will become clear in a moment (I think).

[tab][/tab]b) Cost: I can find no explicit mention of how you actually purchase “Other Covenfolk”. At pg 72 (ArM) you are given the Build Point cost for Specialists, but none for the other “Other Covenfolk”. There is no Boon for purchasing them, besides things like Crossbowmen (which I’ll get to). Reading the Covenant Creation Summary (which if you only have ArM is all you have to go by) it would suggest you get the Baseline for free. However, that is implausible. Were it the case, and you used one or more of the slots for Craftsmen/Labourer (as the example permits), you would be obliged to purchase additional Other Covenfolk (as explained above). But how would I do that? The only rationale I can think of is there is no creation cost for them at all. Rather you can have as many as you can afford in terms of the Expenditure. If that is the case why do I have to spend Build Points on Specialists?

  1. Income: Allied to the above is the issue of Income. Each Covenant gets a typical source of Income for free. However, you can purchase a Secondary Source of Income as a Boon. This however, makes no sense to me. Surely the source of Income is a matter of in game effect, most particularly based on other choices you make?

Assuming you can have as many Covenfolk as you like, so long as you pay the expenditure, surely you could buy in as many Craftsmen/ Specialists as necessary to make whatever profit you could. For example, my troupe have decided to use Swordsmiths to manufacture weapons and Bee Keepers to produce honey. So long as they’ve paid for the Covenfolk to do it (whatever that may be), why should they need to take an additional Boon to have two sources of income?
Furthermore, the Source of Income derived is little problematic. For example, a Specialist can make approximately 2 Expensive Weapons per season (or 8 per year), (City and Guilds pg. 68). That equates to 120 Shillings or 6 Pounds. Therefore, to have a Typical Source of Income (100 Pounds) you would need 15 Blacksmiths/ Swordsmiths. Even if you purchased Specialists with higher abilities, you’d need at least 3. Suppose my Covenant instead wanted to earn around 100 Pounds but by using a combination of Sword manufacture and Honey production, they would need to take the additional Boon, but why? The answer maybe that I am applying the the rules too rigidly (and feel free to say so) but they don’t appear to me to gel very well together.

  1. other Other Covenfolk: I touched on this earlier. I realise this has been posted about in the past, but it doesn’t seem to have been answered conclusively. If the Troupe take the Crossbowmen Boon (for example) how do you determine how many crossbowmen they are allowed? Again, is this as many as they want, providing they pay the wages et al. If so, why should they have to take a Boon at all? If not, how many do they get with the Boon?

  2. Horses: A small point, but I know how much the Inhabitant Cost is, but how many can I have at creation?

  3. Seasons: What is the relevance of this or is this just an In Game turn. It appears in ArM but not in Covenants. It appears to be a throwback to 4th Edition, whereas in 5th it’s really the Power Level.

Thanks for listening to my ramblings. Any comments welcome.


Sorry missed one off

  1. Weapons and Armour: I understand the yearly expenditure cost (1 pound per 320 points of weapons) but these points are not, as I read it build points. So how many weapons can my Covenant start with?

baseline in this case is a pipe dream.
If you want to have that few covenfolk, you'll need to use enchanted devices to do some of the work.

Basically, covenfolk are free (from a build point PoV) - you're payng for them by worrying about getting them food and pay.
Remember, Ars is more narrative than That Other Game were PCs are wont to care about every sngle gold piece, even when they have millions.

You need to pay separately for specialists because they are XPs (in the form of teaching).
That and perhaps because they are competent enough to crcumvent some stories, but mostly because otherwise you will get a blacksmith with Metalworker 9 and teaching 12 because one of the players made a verditius.

if you wanted to make just 80 pounds from 2 sources, that fine - the extra 20 well...

Seriously, the main reasons to keep track of income/expenses for a covenant are
A) having a fascination with numbers - that's me. Some call this "being anal"
B) having fun with the stories that grow from having a finite treasury - usually because it's too empty but occasionally because it's too full. Time to decide what to buy.

As any as you can afford. Why are they a boon then? Beats me.
Perhaps you are paying for the priviledge of having unusual troops?

Or you are 'paying' (have to take a hook) because having these elite troops cause stories to happen to you (ie, they worry the neighbours).

I'd say free, but remember that animals react badly to the Gifted - and horses are said to have an extra bad reaction.

It's a concept used in previous editions. Sadly it was de-emphazised in this edition.
I miss it - it was a useful concept.

How much room do you have?

I don't really remember the rules, and have mostly used Metacreator which did things for back when I used them. However, for the most part I have to agree that the Boons work more on the story-level so sometimes make little mechanical sense. This is most obvious in one of the best boon-systems in the game, the Fortifications boons - it's written there quite explicitly that you should take heavy fortifications for the stories they bring, not for the actual protection such structures provide. In the same way, the fact that your income is derived from two sources means that stories about losing your income source just became less urgent and that justifies a Boon. And the important point is that you have some Crossbowmen - it doesn't really matter how many. Well, if you have an army's worth of them I might get you to take another Boon to represent that, but within reasonable limits what matters to the story is that you have crossbowmen, period, not their quantity. And similarly, you have covenfolk - the exact number doesn't matter, so doesn't enter the rules at this level, except for the Mythic-Penny counting of covenant economics, that is strictly optional for those... ahem.... well, I believe the word "anal" was used above.

That said, Ars Magica rules aren't precisely a model for clarity and precision. Apply with care - assign Boons according to what feels right to represent the covenant at the story level, that's what they're there for; assign reasonable numbers where the rules are silent; and look over the final thing to override any decisions imposed by the rules that don't work for you.

You can start with as many as you like. You need not pay for them in terms of Build Points (with the exception of specialists, see below). But keep in mind a horde of retainers costs you a lot of silver every year!

Actually, you only have to pay for "faceless" specialists, that are nothing more than a skill score rather than a full-fledged PC.
If you actually take the time to create them as living PCs (even grogs) with their own personality and motivations, they are free. Yes, that's right. Full-fledged specialist PCs make for more interesting stories, so they are encouraged; also, stuff may happen to them (they may get kidnapped, or they may have a crisis of faith about serving those heathen wizards) so they can be slightly more inconvenient than plain, "faceless" skill providers.

Again, it's easier to think about this in terms of story economy. You can pay for stuff in either "hassle free" Build Points, or in stories.

If your Covenant starts with a Source of Income, you have to pay for it with Build Points. This guarantees that the money is there from the beginning, and barring exceptional circumstances, will always be there without PC effort. By choosing a starting source of Income, the players are saying: "We don't really want to worry about making money -- Ars Magica is about other things, and it's on those things we want our stories to focus." This is the default for most Ars Magica games, where the wizards have enough money that they don't have to worry about it unless they start spending profligately; that's why a Standard Source of Income is, well, Standard, and neither a Boon nor a Hook (whereas not having it is a Hood, and having much more money costs a Boon).

If, on the other hand, you want to play out the fact that you have to set up the beehives (maybe making a supernatural pact with the bee king of the region), or to find customers for your weapons (possibly getting entangled in the dangerous political games of mundane nobles) then you should not buy a starting source of income with Build Points. Select an appropriate Hook instead: basically, you are saying to your storyguide "we want to have stories about the need to make money". Making this stipulation nets you a Boon in exchange, very much like a Story Flaw for a character allows one to take a Virtue "in exchange" for it.

You can't just say: "we have the swordsmiths, so we'll pump silver out of them without the need to take a Source of Income". Either you take the Source of Income, or you'll need stories to get the silver.

If you pay for the Boon, you can have as many as you like. They are there, and you need not spend any effort about gaining them, retaining them -- and detailing them. If you do not pay for the boon, you can't have a force of organized crossbowmen. You can design as a PC an individual grog who knows how to use the crossbow, and that's free, but that's very different.

As many as you feel is reasonable. Remember, characters have any "reasonable" possessions at the beginning of play without need to pay for them. Same for covenants. The same holds for weapons, clothing, and food.

It's an In Game "term". The fact that Covenant go through the cycle of seasons, has been one of the strong themes of Ars Magica since the beautiful 2nd edition "Covenants" book and the Four Seasons Tetralogy. It used to be a less one-dimensional "power level" issue back then; the season you were in dictated the number (and to a lesser extent type) of resources and problems your covenant had. For example, a Winter covenant had more resources than a Spring one, but also many more problems.

A friend of mine has started bashing around a 'new saga' guide and I've been jumping in, and covenant creation has been high on my list. This is a rewrite of roughly what I've got so far:

A covenant starts off as an agreement between players that sets the tone of the saga, and describes what kind of characters will fit well or poorly with the rest of the group.

This is primarily used at saga creation to set the tone of the covenant as a whole. There is a key point in all of this that is often overlooked even within the rules themselves, and that is:

The covenant you are describing is the covenant assets, boons, hooks, etc. that the player magi, their companions and their staff have access to

Unless the player magi are the only magi in the covenant, you aren't necessarily describing the whole thing! If the players begin in an autumn covenant, it may well be that they are looking after only a wing of the covenant, or a floor of a great tower, or a chapter house. The library they have, the vis they get, the monies they have access to - all of this is what someone more senior in the covenant allocates to them from a greater pool. Hooks like 'superiors' means having to jump when you're told but also provides stories for covenant 'growth' - the big, sprawling autumn covenant might not actually be growing at all - and instead the player magi are gaining access to a larger share of its resources.

As a Storyguide, you are under no obligation to detail the remainder of the covenant - and in fact I would specifically avoid doing so in order to be able to have it provide whatever is needed for the story later.

For a new saga, a chapter house or wing of a larger autumn covenant can actually be a real boon for the game. It puts easy access to support from senior magi who have a vested interest in the survival of the player's group in easy access, while still giving the group autonomy to do their thing. Remembering that the covenant library you're statting up is the library the players have access to rather than the whole thing is crucial.

What this means is season and build-point-level are actually unrelated. You can't have a 1200-point spring covenant (see minimum covenant age requirements), but you can have a 300-point powerful autumn covenant if the covenant is very stingy about what it provides junior members!

Once the game is in motion, the term 'spring, summer..' is just an in-game descriptor. There are no rules for when a covenant advances from one stage to another - but I would guess a seasonal change wouldn't happen more frequently than once every ~20-30 years. I tend to base it on how robust the covenant is hermetically. If the covenant can fend off wizards wars or other bully tactics effectively, it's probably no longer spring. This suggests multiple magi of 30+ years out of apprenticeship, since freshly gauntlet'd magi aren't likely to be able to stand alone against anyone outside of their age bracket.

Boons and Hooks
Boons and Hooks are primarily related to stories: hooks tell the Storyguide(s) what stories the players want, and boons indirectly tell the Storyguide(s) what stories the players don't want as well as providing tools to utilise in the solving of other stories.

e.g. :

  • Wealth boon says stories about being poverty are low on our preferred story list. We also want to have money to throw at other problems.
  • Crossbowmen says stories about being wimps in mundane combat aren't welcome, and shooting things with a highly trained, professional military unit is a solution to other stories.

Note that this doesn't prevent stories, it just provides an angle for story resolution.

Once you've established these, I say don't worry overmuch about boons/hooks. If the covenant ends up being able to afford crossbowmen and has a story wherein the services of a skilled group are retained (along with the specialists to support them), I wouldn't grant the covenant the boon. I'd just make a note somewhere that they have crossbowmen. If a hook gets resolved through play, I wouldn't bother with trying to immediately find a new hook to replace it. Something will crop up soon enough.

The baseline suggests that for each magus you have 1 fighting grog and 2 covenfolk. What I do with this is suggest each player give basic details of a fighting man, a craftsman/specialist of some kind and someone who is either a servant or a labourer. This doesn't make up the final numbers for teamsters, etc. - the remainder come for free. The free specialists aren't allowed to be teachers, and aren't allowed to be a rare craft/trade.

For detailing the characters, I ask for:

  • Name
  • Personality traits
  • Age
  • Short description

This includes combat grogs as well. Any character that doesn't have a character sheet gets given a template from one of the books, which never changes. Thus, if the players want these characters to grow they need to write up a character sheet (which can be done by copying a template, I have no issue with that).

The rest of the covenfolk are 'non-speaking extras' - they can be listed in your numbers spreadsheet if you're a numbers person, or just ignored until one of them suddenly needs a personality.

Once the inital covenant creation is done, the recruiting of new specialists or similar should always involve a story. Getting new labourers shouldn't be an issue, but because mythic europe doesn't have a huge itinerant workforce of specialists and doesn't tend to post job ads anywhere, any further gains should be rewards from stories. Even a wealthy covenant needs stories - its just the nature of those stories probably involves spending a lot of money.

Income sources for covenants aren't a specialist, they're an industry - and they are typically not on-site within the covenant. A swordsmith working in the covenant is a cost-saving measure, an income source of 'makes swords' is a swordsmith guild in a town known for making swords. Things like fishing fleets, large vinyard estates, entire farming villages or similar are income sources - where the covenant acts like any other overlord and attracts the envy of other overlords, too.

Horses and other Livestock
If the covenant doesn't have someone to look after the horses, chances are the number will be fairly low. If the covenant does, it'll be higher. A boon like 'knights' is likely to come with the required support staff for free - maybe even off-site.

The base numbers for covenfolk are somewhat off. Most published covenants do not follow that pottern at all. Fengheld, Durenmar or the Normandy tribunals have a much larger military and covenfolk base. The only one I think could follow those rules is Occulus septentrionalis, but then it is in the middle of a city, so production/supplies is way less important for them.

I would suggest a base of 3 grogs and 8 covenfolk per magus. Between one third and half of the covenfolk would be children. The 1-2 relationship listed would be the covenfolk specifically designated for the magus (his shield grog/leader of his escorts and his personal assistants).

Covenants is an amazing source for adventure ideas, but I have never bothered using the mechanics in it. Too detailed for how we run our covenant. The boons and hooks section is great to get an idea of your own covenant, but the hard number for loyalty, finances et al just detract from our fun so we do not use it. The basic system from the core book is more than enough for us. Same for the lab rules. We use a much more generic system there.


Every group I have been in has always done the full calculation, complete with spreadsheets. This is usually because a player wants to know how many people there are, probably in response to a story developement.

I also find that once the calculations are done and players have a good idea how many people there are, and what kind on Cash they have available, the numbers rarely have to be revisited.

Once you have workers out that you have 7 magi, 4 companions, 3 Experts, 7 craftsmen, 6 knights (Heavy Cav), 30 foot soldiers, and around 50 other people, and a cash Surplas of 25 pounds a year that is all you need.

From this point on all you have to do is keep your eye on an outragous spending, and any interesting specialists the players wish to recruit.

And thats it. Other than via Stories the figures will probably never change much.

OK, so, foundational statement:

No sane person is going to use the whole book. The idea is that you use the Boons and Hooks to negotiate a play contract in your group, and then use the detailled sections for detail if they interest your group. Interested in libraries? Use that chapter. Not interested? Skip that minigame and just mine it for any story ideas or colour you can see. Don't use all of the crunch - use the crunch that does what you want your stories to do.

Covenants is a cookbook (actually the boons and hooks section is based on Stephanie Alexander's "The Cook's Companion". You are give some ingredients and suggestions of what you might like to do with them. You aren't meant to just pour everything in the pot and assume that since each ingredient is great, they will be great together. Sorry we didn't make that clear.

If you want a basic covenant, use the first one. If you want to use the detailled economic rules, use the second one.

Have as many as you like. And yes, that means you can have 1 000 000 of them if your players want. If you want to be the Covenant that Rules England, than have fun with that.

As a break on experience gain, basically. Specialists are Books With Legs. Also, it forces your players to talk about what they want, not just say "We have two of everything." Do you want to pay for a librarian or an assassin? What does that say about your game? Foircing you to articulate that difference is the point. It's pretty much the point whenever the rules say "You can't have everything. Pick what you want. Discuss."

Not so much.

Because the Boons are the framework and the Build Points are the detail, not the other eay around.

Let me put it this way: You get as many blacksmiths as are required to make your Income as part of that buy. If the honey is just a minor sideline, then it goes into that for free. If it really makes you enough you could basically run a town on it, then you buy it separately, and get as many apiarists as you need to get that money for free.

If you have a Typical Source of Income, the people who provide that income are free, and it doesn;t actually mater if you have 5 specialists or 10 mediocre guys, in terms of Boon cost.

If you use the complicated rule,s I believe you still get the guys who make your income essentially for free. I neveruse the complicated version of the money rules, though, so I'm not the best person to answer that bit.

You get as many as seem about right in your game, according to your troupe's view.

Now, the obvious next question is "Why not pick a number and put that in the book?" and the answer goes like this:

Covenants needs to work for people playing all kinds of Ars Campaigns. Gritty and Realistic or High Fantasy? Magi with a lot of power to change the world, or little power to change the world?" "England or Switzerland?" Each of these changes the number (Crossbowmen are a big deal in England. So big a deal they only work for the king, and are specifically thrown out of the country by the Magna Carta. In Switzerland, they are cheap and socially unproblematic.)

We couldn't guess that number for you, because we don't know where your game fits on these axes.

As many as you like. More than 10 000 are hard to jusftify, IMO.

It's power level, with a sort of non-perscriptive idea that you are scaling yourself against the Ultimate Thing in your campaign. If you are Autumn, then its not a campaign about gaining more power, but more about what you do with power.


Thanks for this. Please feel free to ask if you need any help.

Can I just say a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to read and reply to my post but more importantly for politely and eloquantly letting me know I'm over analysing the game. I'm going to blame the Troupe I play with (mainly because so far they haven't joined this board).

I would also add, that I absolutely love/ am obsessed with Ars Magica. It is by far and away the most immersive game I have ever played. It's also a learning experience. I mean, who knew that tomatoes were not eaten until the 16th century?

Thanks again guys. Much appreciated.

Don't worry about that - you're not the first, you won't be the last :slight_smile:

Again, you're not alone. I've been hooked since some point in the nineties.

For sure. It takes a bit of getting used to Ars Magica, especially coming from other RPGs that have a narrower focus in character and timeline. It takes a bit of adjusting to the idea of not necessarily getting experience points each time an encounter is completed, of having more than one character, of having broader plans, etc.

But once you do wrap your head around it and the group make the transition, it's addictive. It has the capacity to be brutal and complicated and immersive and to grab you in completely different ways. If I were to make a comparison, I'd say Ars Magica is to DnD as Game of Thrones is to Lord of the Rings. Both are great tales, but one has far more depth than the other.

Not that an occasional dungeon romp isn't fun. :slight_smile:

Just do the dungeon romp in the Ars setting, it's some regio. Infernal or faerie or possibly magic realms.

Or in the Dungeon Done Right? (that's still the tag-line, right?)

Interesting. I'd swap the novels. I had to read the Game of Thrones books in some detail when I was helping write the Campaign Guide for Green Ronin, and I don't think they're deep. They're just based on a deeply pessimistic view of human nature that says that the only thing that matters, in the end, is who you can kill. Lord of the Rings is about the responsibility of power, and fighting is not, in the end, the way to win anything. Sam and Frodo win by planting trees.

Ars Magica is to DnD as The Lord of the Rings is to A Game of Thrones. :wink:

I'd argue Ars Magica is more Strange and Norell, in that it's really about a tiny group of people, deciding what they do about the fact they have far more power than they know what to do with, and lack the social skills to find friends outside that tiny circle, so they are drawn into tight groups which barely understand the complexities of the rest of the world.

Sounds like a lot of the people I work with! :smiley: