How many grogs in play?

I'm currently in the process of evangelizing Ars Magica to my group with a series of example games. I've been following the line since the days of first edition, but this is my first time actually running ArM5. I remember that one of the earlier editions recommended that each player control their magus and his shield grog; a martial companion; a noncombat companion plus a grog; or three grogs. However, grogs in ArM5 appear to be much more capable and on-par with companions than they were in previous editions. But, on the other hand, ArM5 adds the group rules, allowing one player to run up to half a dozen grogs in combat as readily as a single character. So, given these things, does the same guideline still apply? Or is it now more common for a player running solely grogs to take more or fewer of them?

And a couple other groggy questions, while I'm talking about them:

  • In the Grogs book, the 5-year Archer package puts just as many points into Concentration as the 5-year Sentry package, but staying awake on watch is the only specific non-magical, non-academic use for Concentration that I can find in that book or the core rules. Is this just meant to reflect that archers spend a lot of time on watch or do they have some other use for the skill?

  • In the ArM5 Covenants book, it states that the baseline for a covenant is to have one grog and two other covenfolk per magus, but, as far as I can see, there doesn't seem to be any cost (other than the ongoing annual upkeep) for having more grogs/covenfolk than this. Have I missed something? It seems odd to state a baseline rather than directly stating "pick any desired number of grogs/covenfolk" if there's no cost for deviating from the baseline.

It says typical, and the cost is maintenance cost, as discussed under wealth.

In our saga the grogs just come from the pool and are shared out at the start of a session. That said, some players tend to play particular grogs but that is not a hard and fast rule.

Yes, that would be the "ongoing annual upkeep" I mentioned in the initial post.

Do you mean that your group plays every grog in every session?

What I'm used to from earlier editions was to have a turb of, usually, 20-50 grogs (I believe that 50 was, at one point, the default number, but serf's parma), so there was never any question of taking all of them - not only would it be an unwieldy number to coordinate in play, there were usually quite a few of them who didn't even have stats yet. And someone needs to be left behind to guard the covenant, in any case. Thus the question of "if a player plays grogs in a session, how many do they normally take from the pool to play in that session?"

I tend to have a lot of grogs, but that is partly because I would rather make and track a grog than pay for specialists and craftsmen with build points.

The number of grogs and covenfolk the covenant has is going to vary wildly by what season the covenant is in.

A spring covenant is probably going to have very few. A summer covenant quite a lot. An autumn covenant probably won't see a huge amount of growth over a summer covenant, but that's because many covenfolk and even grog roles are going to start being taken over by magic. Winter goes back to having very few.

What worked for us in the past is to have important grogs (roughly two per magus) stat'd up, and the remainder just noted with names, personalities, ages and possibly primary ability score.

The primary grogs would get updated every 3 years with an advancement package, plus earning any story xp for stories they participated in.

What I've noticed with Ars Magica games in general is that a fresh group want to play their wizards as much as possible, so you'll typically get a party full of magi out on adventures. Smart magi will bring a shield grog along as well, which means each player is going to be managing two characters (their magus and their own shield grog worked for us).

As the magi get some years and start appreciating the value of lab time, they'll stop wanting to go on every adventure. So you'll see the transition from all-magi parties to probably all-grog/companion parties, with the magi stepping in only when absolutely required.

This is something I've seen in sagas I've both run and played in - it's a trend. :slight_smile:

I'd personally recommend starting out with each player making a magus and a shield grog, and that's it. Let companions come later; new players are going to want to see their magi in action.

As a note: martial companions are often going to be squad or group leaders. This means when they go out, they're likely going to have 3-6 grogs in tow.

We found that our typical Ars Magica adventuring party for a summer covenant (1-2 magi, 1-2 companions, supporting grogs) could easily be about 20 people.

In our covenant in play, which is a refounding and therefore a spring covenant, it has depended on the magus.

We have a pair of Tremare, a pair of Verditi, a pair of Bonisagi, a pair of flambeau, a redcap and a merinita in the player character magi (including the SG junior magi NPCs)

Between those, that we know of, one of the bonisagi has a set of grogs (about 4), one of the Tremare has 5-6 grogs (but is the adventuring type the house sends to trouble spots to get into deeper trouble), the merinita has a fae companion who has his own men at arms (and is playing the story of a knight), so another group of about 5, both verditi have retinues of their own, which are between 6-7 grogs each.

So for 9 junior magi (ignoring the redcap for now, as he's often travelling) we have 24 grogs.

Yeah, that's largely how I've handled the overall turb in past editions, although I've tended to keep the fully-statted grogs updated on-demand whenever they were brought into stories rather than updating them on a schedule.

Interesting. The advice I'm more used to hearing (as well as what I've done in past campaigns) is to start with grogs, then add companions, and finally bring in magi, in order to build up complexity rather than hitting everyone with the most complicated characters (and the ones you most want to understand what you're doing when you build) right away.

With this group so far, I've run Promises, Promises (using ArM5 rules with ArM4 character writeups...) to introduce the magic system and setting, then an all-grog monster hunt. This seems to have them sufficiently sold that we'll probably be devising a covenant and some characters over the next couple weeks. Then it's just a question of whether we'll be set to actually start the saga before everyone scatters for the holidays or if we'll have to wait until the new year first.


It seems this one is very saga-dependant, so I'll just provide my own personal experience.

In our current saga, with a newly-founded spring covenant, we made one magusm, one companion and approximately two grogs for each player. At the start of each adventure, each player decides which of her main characters to play, either magus or companion. Finally, the magi decide how many grogs they'll take with them, which usually defaults to one grog per magus in the party, sometimes as many as two per magus. Those grogs are pooled in the group and played by whomever wishes, if the need arises. So usually the fewer magi in the party, the fewer grogs, but the more companions. Meaning the magi-mundane ratio actually increases the fewer magi, even if the actual party size decreases.

In out last saga, which ran well into deep summer / early autumn, there were about seven magi, some fifteen companions (so many players that each one only made one character, either a magus or companion) and maybe some forty or fifty grogs. The usual party composition back then (barring special adventures) was one player playing a magus, around two-three other players playing a companion each, and a pool of about half a dozen to a dozen pooled grogs, depending on the adventure's particular circumstances.

P.S. - It feels likes I typed "each" more times in this post than the sum of all my other forum posts. :stuck_out_tongue:

The reason I do (and recommend this) is because Ars Magica is fundamentally a game about wizards.

Players tend to form a stronger attachment to the first character they make; it's 'their' character, and the newer one something of an interloper. While Magi are indeed more complicated, I still prefer to create the magus and the shield grog at the same time.

By creating both it delineates the difference between a key story character (magus) and supporting character (grog). Since the saga is going to be about the magi, it makes sense to me to have them front and centre from the beginning.

The other thing is working out the dynamic of how companions fit in with the covenant/saga. Companions are fully-fledged characters in their own right, and creating companions first can sometimes result in characters that - while fun - don't actually fit that well with the magi and the covenant. This in turn can lead to entire sessions spent focused on the machinations and lives of the companions independent of the magi.

While there's nothing inherently wrong with this, it does mean the focus stops being the magi. Which is a little unfair on players who signed up to play a game about wizards.

This is why I prefer to introduce companions later; you can get 'pseudo-companion' characters out of grogs anyway - not all grogs need to be dumb brutes with swords.

That's my experiences, anyway. YSM, of course, D.

Oh - and our group also runs the '3-session rule' for new characters: a player can make as many alterations to their character between sessions for the first 3, after which the character is set in stone.

Your phrasing suggests to me that your group moves grogs around between players within a single story/session. Is that accurate?

I've always interpreted the "pool" as a saga-level thing, with players saying at the start of a story, "I'll take these grogs" and then those grogs are exclusively played by that player for the duration of the story (although someone else might play them in the next story). Treating the pool more continuously, with grogs potentially moving between players at any moment, had never occurred to me, but it's definitely an interesting idea and seems like a good fit with the group combat rules. I think I'll have to give that a try. Thanks for the idea!

Yes, that is accurate.

On a normal basis, grogs just kind of hang around in the background, doing menial stuff until there is a need for one to do something. At that point, anybody who so wishes takes control of that grog for as long as needed. Usually, if somebody's character is not around at the moment, or not in the spotlight, that's the person that takes control of the grog.

Now, this is not a set-in-stone rule for us, but rather an agreed-upon part of the social contract. Meaning, this is kind of flexible. For example, shield grogs are usually handled by the magus whom they're shielding, particularly in combat.

Also, in our previous saga some grogs developed enough personality that they were well-beloved, and I assume this will also happen with our current one once we've played them long enough. In most cases, those grogs ended up associated with a particular player, who was the one to provide them with a distinct enough personality, and that player would then take over that grog permanently. These cases were few, but memorable, and in one instance the grog was even "promoted" to companion status when that player's main character retired.

Another exception would be if for some reason some player would feel none of her characters would be involved in the story. In that case, the player chooses a grog and plays that grog for the whole story, as a kind of "temporary replacement character". A recent example of that is our current story, a trading venture to Thessaloniki. Not everybody was able to join the trip due to having other stuff to do, so a couple players are playing sailors from the ship for the whole story (owned by the covenant and hence grogs). The rest of the sailors are pooled as usual, but those are only played by that player for the duration of the story.

A final exception would be grog-only stories, where each player would play only one grog for the whole story, but those are also infrequent.

With our group, the grogs may be played by different players each week, but some grogs tend to be favoured by certain players -- often by the player who generated the grog in the first place. This doesn't always happen immediately: grogs can remain generic for a long time, and then they perform some memorable task of heroism and/or stupidity, and then tend to stick to that player from then on. We tend to have a lot of grogs, although in recent years we've had fewer soldiers and more general-purpose individuals.


I'm a big fan of Yirkash's approach, and we've done similar.

Because the travelling party of a magus is often larger than the number of players at the table, who plays which grog varies from scene to scene.

For example, if a small group of grogs is dispatched to scout an area, everyone will grab a grog for the scouting expedition. This means that even the magi and/or companion characters who are on the adventure have no active players for that scene; they will get involved later if and when they have to.

I like to think of Ars Magica as being less of a movie and more of a TV series. The camera shifts around to different characters within the series as the episode demands. Just because someone is a major character doesn't guarantee them screen-time in every scene. Or, for that matter, in every episode.

I fully agree with Kid Gloves. :slight_smile:

In our group we tend to have the shield grog controlled by someone other than the player of the protected mage. It makes for some more interesting dynamics at times. We usually share out at the beginning the grogs likely to be involved in a session.

For combat-type encounters we keep the shield grog and magus on the same character, given that the shield grog is pretty much tethered to the magus anyway. Outside of combat if both are involved in a scene, it makes sense to have the two played by different players simply to avoid situations where one player has to have a conversation with themselves. That gets awkward.