Dealing with the Order as player character backup

How do people deal with the fact that when faced with a truly epic threat the PC magi could request assistance from the Order? At the very least, a powerful Quaesitor will probably be sent, bringing great knowledge and magic to deal with said threat. And given that the Order is likely to want to nip any significant Infernal/Faerie/Divine threat in the bud as quickly and efficiently as possible, multiple powerful magi offering support is not out of the question. In game terms, this takes the agency and the thrill of the challenge away from the players.

Have others encountered this as an issue and how have you handled it?

For frontier Tribunals, the players are the only presence of the Order in the area. In Novgorod, the other mages might just be too far from the epicentre to be contacted in time or for them to care.

In general, the Order may or may not react to threats depending on whether it's individual members perceive it as a threat to them personally, and even then, only as their lab schedule permits.

Yes, I understand that you have a problem with the faerie queen of Winter, but I don't see it as a threat to my Covenant or my Vis sources.

Add to that the fact that the members might just deny that there is a threat (cf current antivxx/covid movement).

The rumours of a demonic plague of undeath are just made up by the Flambeau to justify interfering with the mundane and with the Oak Gild who wants to maintain control of the Rhine.

If the threat is absolutely real, plain for all to see and a threat to the very existence of the Order, a letter can be sent to your Quaesitor, who will inform the Praeco, who might bring it up to Tribunal. Then it might be selected as one of the three issues your Tribunal submits to Grand Tribunal (if the quarrel of a local archmage over a trespass by a mage from Provence 35 years ago can be moved down the order of business). And then concerted measures might be discussed: the next 7 years will be used to decide what leather, vellum and which ink to use for the books in which the reports of the findings of the committee on the evaluation of said threat will be reported back to Grand Tribunal, as well as confirming that Carolingian miniatures is the preferred style of writing for official documents. (the right answer being of course light brown ox leather, lamb's vellum and gallnut, but this needs to be established, should the brown be closer to walnut or hazelnut is the contentious issue).

You can portray the Order as utterly inefficient and mired in personal rivalries which prevent meaningful cooperation (much like modern day academia) or you could just have an organised gang of Tremere/ a brotherhood of Flambeau come and just solve the issue within 2 seasons of the letter to Coeris/Castra Solis being dispatched.

As a story teller, I would not throw such a danger at my party, because then they will quickly become spectators as powerful mages just come and solve the problem for them.

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If you can convince other mages that the threat is real and needs to be dealt with urgently - and convincing them of that is not always easy - then you are indeed likely to get the support of some experienced hoplites who can deal with most combat threats.
Of course, if you do call for help, guess who gets all the loot (vis, enchanted items, books, etc.) from the enemies? That's right - them, not you.

Now, if this situation occurs often, then that is clearly a troublesome region that needs to be kept under close watch. Expect a new covenant to get established nearby, populated with said experience hoplites and perhaps a Quaesitor or two. A covenant which can very easily become a rival to the player covenenat, competing for vis sources and so on.

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Just compare dangers in Mythic Europe to dangers in a modern crime story.

Yes, modern police is certainly more efficient than a Tribunal with a few Quaesitores and Hoplites. But still you better convince the police of your trustworthiness and the validity of your observations - or not much will happen.
Typically, until the hero of the story has convinced the local Lestrade, she already has resolved the mystery herself. Lestrade then just makes the arrest - with or without Keystone Cops.

Somehow this is where I expected the link to take me.

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Another take on that is by making the Order be the threat.

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Also there may be some concern that while the Order might send experts to deal with the crisis, they will have other questions afterwards about how the crisis arose, and even completely innocent people will be looked at with great scrutiny and suspicion, meaning the next crisis might be the order.

I don't. I don't let them face truly epic threats ... or at least I keep the epicity well hidden, so that nobody cares.

When I decide to give them a truly epic threat, the plot is going to be the politics and diplomacy of getting the Order to act on it. Not the easiest of plot lines to guide, but it could be very interesting.

This is, of course, just another way to say that I agree with all the other posters.

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Yes, I don't have any immediate such plans. But I was thinking about possibilities for how certain storylines may extend (likely beyond where the saga will every actually reach) and had quite an interesting idea for a powerful threat causing havoc in the land around a spring covenant of new magi, and then realised the scale of it would probably mean asking for help would be the first thing most PCs would do.

That sounds like the typical destiny of any «spring covenant of new magi». Spring covenants of new magi are not expected to survive, so if this is all there is to it, I can't see anyone raising an eyebrow.

Most threats wrecking spring covenants aren't threats to the Order. Just look at the Manx dragon. Nobody cares.

There are of course other story lines which could start that way, and involve the order. Then you have a lots of good story material both gathering evidence, negotiate action from the Order, and negotiating a continued place for your Spring covenant when more senior magi have occupied the land. It can be a good story without even facing the threat itself.

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An interesting problem, and one that arises in many RPGs, not just Our Favorite.

I was running a D&D campaign in Eberron once, the city of Sharn, and after the player characters had a fight in the street with some minotaurs, a player asked, “Where’s the city guard? Let’s just call them and they’ll deal with this problem.”

“Is that what you really want?” I asked. This is your game. You’re the heroes of this story. I don’t want to run a game where the heroes are constantly calling on NPCs to solve the problem for them, and I don’t think you want to play in that game. Sure, it’s realistic that those NPCs might come. But if they solve your problem (instead of complicating it) it’s a worse story. This is why the protagonists of our favorite movies and TV shows always say, “No, no cops.” Because if they didn’t, the show would turn into a cop show, and that’s not why we’re here.

Consider bringing this issue up with your players and having a frank connection about it. You’re running the game on the expectation the player characters are the stars and are gonna handle most problems. Can we all agree to that?

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WRT minotaurs in the city street, consider the following:

  1. response time. You call for the guard, but could be dead before they get there
  2. confusion: is it against the law to be a minotaur? Why should the guard believe the minotaurs are the problem and not you, or now both sides? So now you are in jail with he minotaurs...

I mean really, who goes around armed to the teeth expecting law enforcement to be a solution?

This is my preferred answer. A big bad demon who just wants to eat the world is a boring enemy because it is pure destruction.

But your fellow mages, whose dreams you can understand, with whom you might have exchanged tractatii, who live by the same rules as you, with whom you might well be/have been friends but have to end up fighting each other tooth and nail, are the best opponents. This is also why I love the samurai on samurai part of L5R (and find most of the shadowlands uninteresting).

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Die Hard is a great example of what I’m talking about. Every time more cops or the FBI show up, they’re either a) powerless, b) incompetent, or c) actively making the problem worse.

No matter how beat up the Enterprise gets, no matter how inexperienced it’s new crew might be, every time there’s a problem, an admiral shows up on the big screen to tell the captain, “You’re the only ship in the quadrant.” This is patently absurd, and happens even when the ship is in orbit around Earth.

The player characters are the protagonists. Relying on NPCs to solve the problem undermines the drama. Just talk to the players. Enlist their help to make the game more fun for everyone. That’s all I’m getting at.

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I see the logic in this, especially for games like D&D focussed on a party of adventurers, although it isn't entirely how I like to approach Ars. I feel Ars has a lot of politics, a lot of alternative resolutions to problems other than the obvious, and a level of realism in the players' investment and integration in the world (via the story of the covenant, relations to mundanes, relations to others in the Order) and consequently I'd prefer no approach to a problem to be off the table except for in-game reasons, or I feel some of the verisimilitude of the setting would be sacrificed.

But people's contributions in this thread have been useful and I like the range of perspectives. If I ever do run the large story I had in mind, I think I now see some interesting and plausible ways to handle it.

In most sagas I've played in, people writing to other covenants and to the quaesitors get very few responses. We've got a running in-joke about the deficiencies of the redcap mail service, and my current redcap companion does nothing to dispel this.

The fact is that for 13th century Europe "Within a season" is blindingly fast for anything not being delivered by a specifically hired courier.

If you're there and you're Tremere, you are likely the best response they have, on their cost benefit matrix.

It depends on your order size.

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I think there are too many potential contexts to really answer the question.

In general, though, the Order is too decentralized and fragmented to really cope with an emergency in a short timeframe. If a dragon wants to make the cities of Europe an all-it-can-eat buffet, there's little to be done for the first two or three.

Now, if the Diedne are slowly building power and mounting an attack with the Mongol hordes, the Order can get on that in a mere year, except for House Tremere, which can react this season, and some of House Flambeau, which will have some members in the field right away, and others next season, and some more next spring. These houses won't coordinate, of course, so that will be interesting.

A covenant may be able to get itself together quickly, but the Order won't.

If it does have time to get organized, though, may Heaven have mercy.

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And on the general reputation and expendability of Tremere in the Order, of course.