how do you encourage players to create and run grogs? Most seem t think they are throw away characters, but I tend to find it much more realistic that many adventures would start with magi sending grogs out to look into something rather than wasting their own time with it... and simply having grogs around may mean low interest activities can be handled by them in the background. Plus if you teach them all Latin, artes liberals and magic theory they can be a great source of tractatus as multiple people learning an ability at a lower level is much easier than 1 person learning it at a high level...
I do not, because grogs are not really fun. If they are fun, make it a companion.
In our saga we never use grogs for PC. It's much more fun to invest the time in a character who really matters.
We've had great fun with grogs - but usually only when there are multiple grogs present.
You can take chances with grogs you'd never take with a "character that matters", if nothing else then because of the time it takes to make one. Instead, we've made great use of the example/template grogs from the core book and (to a lesser degree) Covenants.
Grogs can (among other things) provide excellent comic relief when they creatively interpret orders because they aren't really invested in the whatever project the magi are pursuing. Gathering information at an inn becomes a night of drinking on the magi's silver. Re-burying a skeleton becomes a very shallow grave because "do you really think they will ever check?" etc.
On the other hand, some of the most heroic scenes I've seen in Ars Magica (or any RPG really) came from some grog deciding to do his duty and fight something big and frightening - and won! Be it a 2-headed Dragon in the AtD playtest or Damhan-Allaidh in the Thrice-told Tales playtest, grogs have give our troupes some invaluable scenes.
EDIT: Mind you, we've often promoted the best of them to Companions, mind you.
I like the idea of using grogs as 'companions in training'. In my own campaign, most people don't feel particularly excited by grogs, and when one Magi and one companion is off adventuring, the other players tend to use that time to do math for their next major enchanting project, rather than acting out the grogs. An idea I want to try using if I run another game is to have players make the grogs first, before anything else, run a brief adventure of the grogs going to the covenant and getting hired, making sure the grogs all have a bit of personality before they turn into NPC meat walls.
Right now, my troupe's favorite grog seems to be the masterful french swordsman who's dangerously obsessed with becoming a better swordsman... and spends most of his time moping, drinking, and being depressed because he can't find any real people worth training with, and his communication -4 makes sure nobody ever really understands his deep, soul-crushing sadness.
I as the SG love to play grogs-npcs.. And in our Saga my players also like to play them.
First playing a grogs brings less responsibility for success of the adventure/missions/story arc, compared to the magus-player, who is in charge.
Second, it's also very enjoyable to slip into the role of the less confident, less intelligent, less educated, less scared, less engaged [...] protagonists.
Third, it doesn't matter so much, if a grog dies. So you can take risks and have fun..
I think it's mainly the way how your players perceive "roleplaying". If they only want to be mighty heroes finding treasures and beating up countless critters and getting better and better, then grogs are less interesting to them, compared to companion- or mage-level characters. Maybe D&Dx would be also a better choice..
BUT: Isn't playing characters of different power levels in the same rpg group one of the main peculiarities of ArM? Isn't it from time to time more interesting to play or feel the loser, not the champion?
One last point: it's boring to play the standard soldier.. but it's cool, to play "Hans", the blacksmith's son, who was disinherited by his father, because he had an ability block to learn crafting, and was enslaved to work in the nearby saltmine, where he grew strong and later escaped, just to bump into a group of shieldgrogs and magus in dire need fighting an old bear on a journey through the mountains.. IMHO: ArM is all about story..and emotions..
This is a problem I have had too - I've had one player who's opinion on the matter was basically, 'we play once a week, if we're planning on focusing on one mage at a time for an adventure i don't want to have to wait a whole month to play the character I'm most invested in' and this is an entirely solid point - PCs will most likely be the most heavily invested in their mage or their companion - the whole 'troop' style of gameplay is, I think, something that is hard to sell to people who have gotten used to other systems where role-playing and constantly 'improving' one character only is the focus, and some players do not want to jump between characters. The power difference between Grogs and other characters is also a problem in convincing people to play them as often I find my players constantly deferring to the Magi if they are grogs - and whilst this is correct in some ways, this almost always seems to make them just have Grogs accept everything, and stand around until ordered to do otherwise, which makes for uninteresting role-play.
I have been trying to think of ways to make grog's more appealing to my players- I've not tried these yet but I did come up with a couple of ideas
Firstly - assuming you as the SG have a mage character yourself - run an adventure (or indeed long running plot) where your SG mage is up to something that the other magi in the covenant would want to know about / get their hands on. This involves your mage going on several adventures and taking some grog's with him - and each grog has been approached by the player's mage character to spy on the SG mage and report back what he is doing.
You might even get the players more involved in improving their grogs to get more information - after all, if they don't know Latin or magic theory how can they make out what mystical stuff the SG mage is up to. Reporting back and saying 'he went out into the woods and said something in that funny language you all speak whilst waving his hands' is a lot less interesting that reporting back he carried out some kind of ritual invoking a particular titan at the conjunction of several lay lines on the first night of Saturnalia
Secondly - Using Grogs to shift tone. My game has developed a particular tone - adventures tend to be on the funny side, with much mirth and laughter and far too many puns (I've had one character spend three in game years converting magical bees to Christianity and I ended up making the Contrafraternity of Rolland into a Verditius drinking club - albeit with some secrets for the PC involved to be introduced to) But sometimes you feel like you need a change in tone, but you don't want to throw off the dynamic the magi and companion players are building up.
I can see Grog only adventures coming into their own in this way. Warn your players in advance you want to run a game in the future that is different from usual and you're going to use Grogs, so that normal PCs don't have to lurch from their usual Modus Operandi. If your games are serious and gritty then why not have your Grogs wander into a Monty Python like fay regio where they go on a mystical romp with one player getting hold of 'Excalibur' only to turn back up at the covenant announcing he is the true king, only for the magi to take it from them announcing that "strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government!" or if like my games your magi get away with figurative murder thanks to cheeky smiles and bee puns, then use grogs for horror stories (after all, they're not protected from all the low level nastiness the parma protects mages from, nor do they have the kind of 'get out of dodge' moves magi can employ - running from an enemy is a lot more terrifying if you know you can't just leap of homecoming if it all goes wrong)
In general, I think a good way of introducing Grogs is to give your PC's main characters a reason for them to want any grogs they play to do well - committing time to playing Grogs should have some positive effect for the characters they are most invested in - either by rewarding the player characters with additional interesting adventures if they invest and role-play the grogs well, as in the first example, or by giving them interesting items or vis to get from returning grogs who have been on adventures.
My group (still playing 4th ed) enjoys playing grogs from time to time, usually for a story that involves a companion or two, but no magi. While I have filled in most of the stats for new grogs, all the players chime in about possible virtues and flaws. And we do give them personalities. So we have Radulfus, the pious grog who has a great respect for the Merinita maga who dispelled the Arm of the Infant curse he had be subject to. We also have Valentin, the shield grog, whose womanizing ways may be a threat to the treaty the covenant has with the local faeries. There is also Sean, the aged servant to a maga who keeps making his aging rolls, despite being quite old and cranky, not to mention overly protective of his mistress. Annie started out as a maga's servant, who happened to be present when that maga was trying to dispatch the rabbit plague sent by the local faeries before said treaty; "Mr. Whiskers" has become a magical animal companion as Annie has grown into something of a companion character. ... and there are others ...
Occasionally, the players ask for a grog story. Two of the most memorable stories involved only grogs and/or apprentices:
- The sweetheart of one grog was captured by a faerie to play out a "rescue the damsel" story. This took place as as the grogs were making a supply run to Shrewbury (Stonehenge Tribunal), and they had to play through a "sleeping beauty" style of story, picking up faerie created artifacts (a "magical" sword and shield) along the way.
- A young girl (sister of an apprentice) convinced one of the young (14 yr old) grogs to go exploring in the local regio. The girl disappeared into a tree, and did not reappear quickly, so the "kids" (young grog, apprentice/brother, another apprentice, the busybody daughter of the steward) decided to rescue her on their own to "avoid trouble". (This worked at first, since the magi were studying and had left the apprentices only vague instructions.) The group ended up opening up a new section of the regio that the magi had not yet had a chance to explore. They had to find their way through old rusted gates, explore a small garden with some interesting plants and statues, and ultimately had to run from a very angry flock of ravens. The group exited the regio with the lost girl, right into the arms of the magi coming to get them. Extra chores were had by all.
Players can be interested in creating grogs if they're going to spend a reasonable amount of time playing the one they've created - so in a game where the magi send out their grogs first or you tend to have one magus adventuring with companions and grogs, it's worth the emotional investment. If they are only being played occasionally or are "pooled grogs" (as some variations of troupe play use) then there's little incentive to create and do the book-keeping on support characters, as anything randomly picked from a book or written by the SG will do just as well.
Not all magi will send grogs out to investigate things - some feel "If you want a job doing right, do it yourself" - especially in games where they feel the SG will use any stone left unturned as an excuse to ambush the players - "oh you only sent a few grogs to investigate the rumours in the woods - they have all been possessed by demons and have now returned to your covenant to spread evil"
There's a lot of interesting stuff in this thread.
In the saga I play in, most of the grogs that get played were created by players, on orders from the GM. We are playing the Covenant of the Northern Seas (Through the Aegis) but with new PCs. Because each magus has his own ship, and are often separated from everyone else, we each made a grog for every other ship in the fleet. So if my magus, Uncinus, is off pirating (his name is "Hook" in Latin...), one player has my redoubtable shield Companion Leftenant Sven, another my homicidal drill Sergeant Wolf, a third is playing the Magic Crocodile that follows my ship everywhere, and so on. That makes for a lot of PCs, and not every player is into that aspect of the game, but as a group, it works.
In the saga I run, I made most of the grogs, though every player has made up one or two -- typically a personal servant -- though they don't all have game stats. They tend to play their own shield grogs (for a long time they had the use of House Tremere Black Cloaks, elite shield grogs, but since House Tremere recalled them, they are making do with members of the Irish clan Leine Dhearg, which is "Red Shirt"). Some players are very attached to the covenfolk and grogs; i use a "seasonal activity sheet" in which players send me what their magus is doing for three months, and some players use this as a chance to interact with grogs. The magi in my group do not treat grogs as disposable human beings. The names of fallen grogs are recorded in stone on the wall of a guard tower, which is itself named for the first of the fallen grogs, who died fighting a dragon with poisonous blood. (When magi are just starting out, and have only one grog each, they tend to get really attached to them)
What I have not done is use grogs as the OP suggested, as a kind of XP producing factory, turning the grogs into a scriptorium. That sounds like a good hook for a particular covenant.
In short, I've found that some players really get into grogs, and some do not. So I try to create opportunities for the players who really get into them to play them, and I create opportunities for players to have fun with them, and I try not to get frustrated when one or two of my players stubbornly refuse to engage with grogs. I figure, if I'm doing my job right, I can engage those players with something else in the ArM toolbox, something they do enjoy.
Well I tried to make grogs attractive. It's hard because some players really love killing things with magic fire, another one love to investigate with his Guernicus and no grog could be better at that ; another want to play her lovely Diedne maga (but will try to play another character... a Maga one, which is something). The fourth player would play her apprentice, if only she wasn't pregnant EACH YEAR OF HER LIFE (she must be planning an army of magus-related slaves, who knows ?)
I successed in making them play grogs one time or two for one-shot stories, though.
I steal that ! It will make a great adventure... I created a faerie court with a raven theme and it will suits very well
My troupe, for some reason, seems to need no encouragement to play grogs. So ... this post might not be as helpful as one might hope; but here are a few observations that might yield some insight.
My troupe is very small (3 regular players). Having grogs around to play in addition to a magus or a companion is a great way to have a largish cast to adventures, and it's not as if 8-10 PCs are impossible to handle once you have some experience with the game. If we had 8 regular players things might be different. Grogs are also a great way to have a new player try out the game.
As has been pointed out, grogs are expendable, so you can really take huge risks with them. Players detest sacrificing a valued companion or magus to ... say, save a maiden in distress. They would never have such a companion or magus loudly voice at Durenmar that Philippus Niger is ... carrying out unseemly activities with his basilisk familiar . Grogs, on the other hand, are great for these and other things that are memorable, but likely to result in certain death.
Since grogs are side characters, it's a lot of fun to try to make one-side characters out of them -- characters who are ideally suited (often in a good sense, but sometimes in a bad sense) for a given, narrow situation. From my experience, when players make companions or magi they try to make them well-rounded, because they do not want to have them locked out of usefulness. A grog, on the other hand, is a great character to try out a small package of Virtues and Flaws, and a combination of characteristics and abilities with a very specific focus -- whether it's a fussy cook of phenomenal skill and even more phenomenal ego, or a lecherous old nun who's the local gossip, or a doomed knight who will fulfill his Vow, whatever the cost.
There are some activities for which a well-coordinated group is really, really effective; but if only one player is interested in the activity ... grogs are the solution. One obvious example is combat: a well-trained group of six can be outright scary. Another is Divine effects: pair a Holy character with half a dozen associates with Divine Ceremony and behold the power of the Divine. And every artist companion needs a grog Muse!