Help my players make a covenant out of a ruin

Hello all, long-time lurker, first-time poster, that old chestnut.

My two players have been sent to explore the ruin of an old covenant that mysteriously disappeared from the records of the Theban Tribunal. It's in the murky boundary zone between Thebes and Transylvania (ok, it's west of Varna, which is probably not much in dispute, but I'm fudging the geography here), and in the proverbial middle of nowhere. There are some interesting ruins and some conspiracies afoot, but the question which I didn't really answer as a GM (thinking the players would do something more clever than I could imagine) is how to turn this back into a working covenant? And the main problem is basic sustenance. There's a small hunting and trapping village just outside the grounds of the ruined covenant, but those villagers eke out a subsistence living.

Apart from "use magic" or "enchanted item that makes farmland and workers to tend it" or some similar thing that feels a little cheaty or out of the reach of mostly freshly gauntleted magi, how would you envision turning this into a workable covenant? Make a deal with some Faerie creatures? See if they'll flip to Transylvania for some Tremere support (c'mon, it'll be fun to owe them major favors)? Other ideas?

Many thanks for your consideration.


Are the characters (including companions) good at anything economically viable?

Is it possible they could be backed by another covenant or one of the Tribunals?

Poke around for valuable stuff in the ruins. Look through the area for mine-able metal deposits. Acquire forestry rights somehow and start selling lumber.

Search for the records of the old Covenant. Use them to track down the Covenant's Vis sources (Should be several of them. Older means they were able to pick a good spot to set up in, as opposed to "Fresh, Modern" Covenants.). Sell Vis to the Redcaps for silver, and then have them use it to buy food. That should keep you going for a while. Start raising pigs, now that you have some time. Pigs do just fine by themselves in the kind of woods the ruin should have. That should give a boost to the locals, and you should be able to build from there.

Banditry or mercenary fighting?

If they can acquire rights to a played-out mine, they might "find a new seam" of something valuable and plausible, if they have the magical skills to salt the rock or are willing to roundly bribe the assorted mine workers and smelters. It also seems there is at least one salt mine there; another is plausible.

The Varna necropolis points to "finding grave goods" and tomb robbing.

If good with Herbam, promote the local bumper crops, for a reasonable cut. This is selling magical services, which the Order frowns on, but one must eat.

This isn't a cheat unless your Order decides that it is one, and your magi may definitely have some spells that either help produce wealth or at least cut costs for the covenant. Generally a covenant can't do all the work with magic unless they're prepared to create wealth directly and anger the quaesitores, but a healthy covenant will definitely defray at least some of their costs by magic. If they don't have the capability now, then they should definitely consider how they'll integrate their magic into the covenant's economy to keep it going.

Anyway, you're in the Theban Tribunal, so one thing I'd definitely suggest is asking for help and charity from your magi's prior covenants - Theban citizens are expected to be fairly free when throwing around resources to help other magi in need, and a covenant of magi fresh from their gauntlet trying to found a covenant for the benefit of the Tribunal should be able to humbly ask for and receive a reasonable hand. Of course, this'll mean them owing a debt of gratitude as a later story seed.

The Bulgarian border is pretty chaotic right now, so establishing the covenant as an allod and claiming local mineral and forestry resources would be beneficial (as others have said). Also, if any peasants are farming within ten miles of the covenant, deal with whatever faeries and bandits are causing them trouble, then start taxing them - Every Castle Sends A Message, after all. If not, then start assarting some land and get some peasants on it.

Considering the postion at a border between two tribunals, could it be a suitable location for a RedCap inn ?

As a general rule, if you are low on goods/resources, try to provide service. In this case: trading outpost. Use magic to make the area safe by spotting threats and getting rid of them (or hiring/making a deal with them), some non-vis consuming spells can help clean the road (some basic form of ReTe Craft magic, requiring low Finess roll). If one is Merinita with access to Faerie magic and the "Road" duration/range, he can do some very useful stuff:
"As long as you walk on this Road, you won't be attacked by any bandits", ReCo road duration. You don't charge for this, but if the road is more secure, trade will be flourish.

If they decide to settle there, it means there is something valuable - can you elaborate ? If it is too miserable, why would they stay here ?
So they must have some form of valuable resources, otherwise just move away.
Is it a high Aura ? a rich source of virtus ?

High Aura
If it is a high Aura, is there a Genius loci that they can befriend ? If you have thr Rhine Tribunal book, you would use the rule of forest spirit. I am sure that Transylvanian forest are wild and large enough to accomodate such characters.

Other option: there is a regio where life is comfortable and common resource (like fertile land and such) abudant. How do they secure access to this regio ? Can they convince people to go there and live ? preferable without this pesky priest who want to bring Dominion everywhere.

High virtus
This is THE currency of the Order. They can hire a few mage specialists to cast the rituals they need to make life better, or order some items from Verdi. It is a common trade between the "wilder" tribunals (Novgorod mostly, but any large, wild area fits the bill) and the "more urbanised" tribunals (namely the Roman Tribunal).
There is no shame in using magic to help quick start a spring covenant in a wild location. In fact, yes, it is a common trope, but it is effective. Trading some virtus for a few casting tablets.

Rare library/text collection
First reaction: take it and move it somewhere more convenient !
Otherwise, it cannot be moved (maybe it is engraved in the wall of many caves). What prevent them from copying them over several seasons and move away ? Or if it is very valuable, can they seek sponsor from a Seeker, Bonisagus House (or Criamon or ...), a Mystery Cult which will provide them basic resources in return for maintaining the site and allowing access and residence for one of them two seasons a year ?

None of the above.
Err... Run away ?

Your question beg a few questions in return.
How big do your player want their covenant to be ? Do they want only them (no companion, no grogs), similar to the four magi estabished in Herisson Garden (Legends of Hermes). They will have to rely on several magic items for their daily chores, but they are mostly lesser enchanted item that could be purchased (or the lab text) for a low cost. In this case, they won't need much space and a cave with a heavy boulder that can only be moved by magic is a reasonable defense against most threats.
If they want to have several specialists, that's going to be a completely different story: how to convince them to come in the middle of nowhere ? How do you pay them ? Then you need to set up a steady source of income despite the apparent limited resource of the area.
The easiest is mentionned by Sanctaphrax: lumber trade.
The second one, with the help of a few InTe is the mining. Even without going to precious metal (which will attract all kind of bandits), basic stuff like coal and iron is a solid business. Volume are higher so transport need to be organise (and magic can help by shrinking cargo, reducing weight - to mention only lower magnitude spells).

If the issue is basic sustenance, but the magi have some silvers, the best is to stock up on foodstuff: large purchase in a city, shrink the whole think (MuHe, MuAn - if we use the Terram guideline Base is 4 for a 8 times volume reduction, so with touch +1, duration Moon +2, that's a level 20 - manageable, or 30 for a group of objets - manageable with a tablet, otherwise requiring a specialisation for a beginner magus, if the magus is travelling and does not mind casting it everyday, duration can be reduced to Sun - if casting is not possible lesser item can be purchased) to transport it more easily. According to Wikipedia, a mule can carry easily 70 kg, so before compression, that 560 kg. Enough to last for a long while. A healthy magus can easily travel with 20kg in his backpack, which is already quite a lot of food.

Then store it in a dry area (to prevent rot), possibly with a ward against vermin (ReAn 5 - can be spont cast)- the ward is not targetting the food so no side effect of warping food (again, it does not cost virtus). It is possible to have ward against rot, but it will target the foodstuff, so depending on the magnitude and duration of the storage, food can get warped (which can simply be a minor nuisance like unexpected taste). You resupply once or twice a year and you are good to go. If it is sustenance of a small group of people, it won't cost much.
If it is a whole turbula with dependants and relatives, you need a steady source of income, so refer to other suggestions.

I tried to present you only low cost/low magnitude options, that any magus out of apprenticeship should be able to pull off, with possibly the need for only lesser item or spell text. This kind of solution should not required owning major favor from a covenant, at most a minor favor from one magus (a season or two of work).

Building a whole covenant can be done "on the cheap", but it really depends on your take of Craft magic. There have been lengthy debates on this topic in this forum on what should be doable or not with Craft magic and how unbalancing/overpowering it can. Pick up your side as depending on the books you use, you will end up with different interpretations. I personally like it as it favors clever usage of spells and allows the "McGyver" style mage, but that's a personal taste.

Why not use magic to create food and income? This can sometimes be easier and more discreet compared to establishing a lot of fields or mines and emplying a lot of people

Consider the solution where you give the magi a lab text for food-creating ritual spells plus a vis source to pay for it.

A Creo Herbam spell to create grain produces a lot! (For the sake of simplicity I use metric calculations and assume 1 Pace = 1 m). A CrHe Base 1 creates a plant product (e.g. a fruit) so a single grain of wheat for instance. Target: Individual for Herbam is a plant 1 pace in each direction, had it been solid wood this would be up to 800 kg at maximum, but if we assume this is a bush or very small tree it may be less, let's say 200 kg. Target: Group is equal to he mass to 10 individuals, so let's assume 10x 200 kg. So Base 1, +1 Touch, +2 Group for a total of level 4. As Rituals are always min level 20 spells we'll use the remainder for Size modifications, so that's +4 magnitudes where each one multiplies the base mass by 10. The ritual creates 2000 tons of grain. I have no idea how much a medieval persons east in a year, but this should sustain quite a few people.

Very, very crude calculation to answer this question:

  • Assuming an average need of 3000 kcal/day - our sedentary life style needs more 1800 to 2000, but I am being generous for a lot of extra physical activity and harsh conditions;
  • Considering that 1 g of starch or protein contributes to 4 kcal/g (fat = 9 kcal/g);

Thus, an active adult would need ~750g of pure starch & protein.

  • Considering grain compostion (moisture, fiber & such), 1.5kg/per day will cover the caloric need of one active adult.
    That is a lot. It is probably the equivalent of 5 kg of cook pasta or 3kg of bread. That should fill you up...

It is not a balanced diet at all, but it give a very coarse measurement of how much grain you need per person. So over a year, that's about 545 kg.
That is by far an overestimation (3000 kcal a day is very generous, even considering physical activity), I also overestimate the conversion factor from starch to grain. So you can see this value has a worse case scenario, which can cope with loss due to some spoilage and other waste.

So to simplify, 2'000 tons of grains = food for 4'000 people for a year... err... that's not a covenant, that's a town. Although it is less vis efficient, I would advise not to maximise the spell effect with the magnitude multiplier (or allow a Finess roll to control the quantity to what the magus needs), you will have a lot of waste, and possibly lots of rats & bugs infestations without proper protection spells (consider a volume of ~3'000 cubic meter, that's as many industrial palets (about a cubic meter each, 50 large trucks or half a soccer field filled above waist line).

If you don't want to use up raw vis to produce food, an efficient way of producing food with CrHe magic is to use the CrHe 15 guideline "Bring a plant to maturity in a subgke day or night" (ArM5 p.136). The resulting spell is level 30, but if none of your magi can learn it they might commission someone to make (or lend them) an item with a good number of uses per day. They can quickly grow an orchard that will help feed the covenant. Trees that produce fruits and/or nuts can be quite valuable. Olive trees are also a staple of Greece. Grape vines as well.

All with a single magical effect cast multiple times. It may not be enough, by itself, to make the covenant self-sustaining, but that would help a lot.

That may be "cheating", but that's what magi do.

Wow, these are great suggestions. Thank you all.

Good idea.

I've considered before using a T: Circle CrAn ' bring to maturity' spell. Go out to local peasants and buy calves, piglets and newly hatched chickens cheap. Imagine a circular pen housing whatever you can scrounge up and then use this spell. Bam! The animals are mature in the course of a day, and then trade these beasts for what you need.
Also consider the relatively low level Base you need for Re An craft magic, and make devices do this. Go out to local peasants and buy wool, raw hide etc. go home and proces it into cloth and leather. Only drawback is that this requires a moderately high Finese roll. See Covenants for examples of this.

ReAq allows large scale irrigation.

If the Black Sea is nearby, or some other reasonable body of water, PeAq desalinates (so does ReAq) permanently, and then ReAq. A magic item or two allows magi to not have to do this themselves, long term. MuAq can shrink the water, if it's too far away. But this region probably does ok for rainfall, so optimizing this might just be a matter of making sure you harvest all the real rain. ReAu can move that nice rainfall to where you want it.

Once you have water, crops and herds come much easier. CrAn/He for quick maturation has been mentioned. ReAn allows you to create real frogs, should your appetites run that way.

You're near not 2, but 3 Tribunals. Trade becomes a possibility, through mundane factors. Like any ruler, you provide protection and 'protection.' Crea deting a petty kingdom has been mentioned.

Heck, you have many options, depending on whether the GM wants to run stories exploring these options (and then running stories about the consequences of success) or shutting them down.



For meat, there are always rivers, and rivers mean fish. A fairly simple MuAq spell to alter the buoyancy of water (base guideline for slightly unnatural is MuAq3) will cause all the fish in an area to float to the top for easy collection (nets). Touch/Diameter/Part is +3M (bringing you to a 10), then boost the +Size a few (MuAq20 is 100 base magnitudes, which is probably about 1000 cubic paces of water).

Next, consider the birds of the air. What happens if the air is too thin for them to fly away? MuAu5 (Touch/Diam/Part brings you to MuAu20, probably no +Size required) and that flock of geese/ducks are easier picking.

Then, there are forests for hunting. Simple MuCo spells will allow your huntsmen to smell and hear much better to find animals, and PeIm spells can keep the animals from smelling or hearing your hunters (and InAn spells let you use animal spoor to effectively track them). Most of these are fairly low level effects that can be put in enchanted objects.

For farming, the Terram specialist offers many advantages. The Forgiving Earth (ReTe20) makes plowing or clearing (and in some cases, harvesting!) land easy (even toppling trees becomes relatively trivial). Rock of Viscid Clay (MuTe15) makes clearing rocks simple (and makes great mortar for building walls or terraces).

For just making money, there are lots of options. Creating food directly is one, but simple vegetable products such as pine pitch (used in shipbuilding) is CrHe base 2 and won't arouse suspicions if you're working in a forest (of pines). CrAn guidelines are less efficient, but producing beeswax/honeycombs or raw hides to process and sell to wealthy monasteries is a great way to raise cash and make friends with the Church. Individual target doesn't do much for CrAn, but Group target does you plenty. CrAn5 (create a hide), Touch/Instant/Group +3M = CrAn20 and yields as many hides as the weight of 10 Size +1 critters.

The animal and plant growth spells are sufficiently difficult that starting magi would struggle with them (level 30 minimum?) and they might effectively require rituals because they are actually creating mass from nothing in most cases (IMO these should have been tagged as ritual spells from the get-go. YMMV).

I would suggest establishing how the previous covenant supported itself. Let the PC's figure it out and potentially follow in their forbears footsteps. If the covenant used magic there might be lab texts or even intact magic items to give them direction and a jump start. If there where mundane resources like a mine to be refurbished or an overgrown orchard that can be cleared out, that could be fun sources for potential adventures.

Yes, precisely. It makes good sense to glance at how things were done in the past, if re-settling old ruins. However some changes may have occurred regarding terrain or other features.
But allowing the player magi to find old lab texts for these sorts of things plus perhaps some texts in the relevant Arts put such spells more easily into the range of even younger magi.

You can also use that to give hints regarding hidden features:
The Haunted mine: why are they so much lab text regarding mining spell, metal-craft/forge ? There is no mine around. Or is there ? Why is it hidden ? Is it in a regio or did it collapse or was it closed ? What does lurks inside ? Did they dig too deep and found the Arkenstone (err... oups... forget about this one) ?

The Web-Spinners: A book on Faerie Lore ? A tractatus on moon-spiders ? Schematic (lab text) on a magical loom ? and a couple of incredibly resistant silky cloth rolls... mmmhhh was there a deal with some Faerie spider, there are rumors of nightmarish creatures and Faerie spider weave dream cloth... where they decimated by these nightmarish shadows ?

The Forgotten distillery: Look at this alambic ! It is gigantic, a man could fit in the main vessel ! Hey guys, I found a subterrain map, and what is this sticky, smelly disgusting black oil ? I heard that there is nearby a site call the "Hell's mouth". It is constantly burning, even when it rains hard.

You can also go for entertainment if there is no such thing around.
Could be something like CrAn to summon 2 temporary dog or cock and let them fight each other as they are just temporary who cares if they are wounded. Take a part of the betting sum and sell some beverage