I have played in a few campaigns but because of the way I am, all of my characters haven't been at all combat focussed, and the SG's haven't pushed combat, so I don;t have much experience with shield grogs but one question has bugged me for a while:
Why, given the social penalties of the gift, do shield grogs exist?
How much do you have to trust someone to stand infront of them directly in the path of really quite scary monsters, when there is this nagging sense that they are playing at being nice, but are just looking for a way to betray you (paraphrasing from the core book)
I am looking for ways to explain this in universe that others have stumbled upon.
Because the sort of people who become shield grogs are used to being serfs in a feudal system or being mercenaries for hire. Many people are used to being part of a noble lord's holdings, and relying on his permission to move lands or get married. If you're English, your lord probably speaks Norman French and is about as understandable to you as a Latin-speaking priest or scholar. Under these circumstances, an employer who offers decent wages and living conditions and promises to feed your family if you die may seem pretty attractive.
Alternatively, if you're the sort of person who is a sword for hire you have probably had to deal with employers like the nobility of the more war-torn parts of medieval Europe. If you've had to deal with the backstabbing politics of the city-states of northern Italy, then maybe getting in between a monster and a scary wizard for money isn't the worst deal you've ever been offered.
There is also the fact that shield grogs usually are chosen from the more experienced grogs in the covenant. They will have been around magi for a while, in many cases around the specific magi they are protecting, so they will to some extent have got used to the Gift and its effects.
We generally have our magi put obvious effort into rewarding the grogs.
The wider answer probably relies on where your take is on the spectrum of the social impact of the Gift, from Everybody Flees in Horror at the Sight of a Normally Gifted Mage to People Notice A Blatantly Gifted Mage Is Odd.
I'm thinking about writing a starter saga for newbies with the new regime. I'm going to set it in Cambridge with new magi being invited to join a covenant, where the only representative is a cleric technically under the aegis of the bishop of Ely. This cleric has managed via a relationship with a redcap to accidently make the rest of the order think that there is an active covenant at Cambridge whilst not having any magi, and so everything will be set-up de novo. The cleric needs to get a legal covenant up and running as without some magi, the magical device that heals the local people will be vunerable to being snatched away, so he will be able to look past the gift, but will not be able to drag soldier people to do the same.
So noone will be used to magi, and so I think from what people have said, I will have to write in that the default magi will be bringing thier own shield grog.
(the cleric is meant to be an SG character with not perfect knowledge of the order, so that a new SG has an in-game reason for not having to understand everything about the order before the first session, but can act as a conduit for quests/information)
I would often assume that newly gauntletted magi set off with a shield grog who has seen them growing up and thus know their Gift. I find it logical that at few young magi would leave home without a trusted servant. They are needed not only to carry shields but to liaise with innkeepers and merchants in all sorts of situations, not to speak of cooking on the campfire on an adventure.
This is an excellent question. In fact, it's one that goes beyond combat; why be the maid of a creepy treacherous bastard trafficking with occult forces, whom you suspect has sacrificed your predecessors in gruesome rituals?
When we begin a new saga, we always make sure there is an answer for every starting grog and companion. And to recruit new grogs, the magi must provide the answer Note that long familiarity does not really "erase" the bad feeling you get from dealing with someone with the Gift. It's more like ... you know, this pimp who sells crack to schoolkids has never really caused any ruckus at your bar, tips well, and keeps to himself so ... you just bring him his beer, quick 'n efficient, and, you know, you have a responsibility to your job right? So "this grog has been with you long enough to grow used to you" isn't quite enough.
Eight reasons for sticking with a Creepy Treacherous Bastard (CTB):
Birds of a feather stick together. You are widely regarded as a CTB yourself, and have nowhere else to go, other than the gallows.
Orders are orders. You've been with your captain through thick and thin - fighting moors, plundering cities, squeezing taxes out of the bishop's peasants - and you won't betray your oath now, despite his mad contract to protect this CTB.
Common enemies make for strange bedfellows. The dragon who ate your sister seems to have eaten this CTB's pet mouse too, and said CTB seems hell-bent on getting his - i.e. your - revenge.
Resistance is futile. A prophecy. A vision. The stars aligned. You know you will stick with this CTB. It can be no other way.
An offer you just couldn't refuse. Forbidden books? Food during famine? A cure for your sick child? The chance to become the finest archer in England rather than a housewife?
Blood runs thicker than water. Sure, he's a CTB, but he's family. Everything else is secondary.
Minor Personality Flaw: Covenant Upbringing. It's the only way of life that you know, and that everyone you know knows. Those CTBs stink, but so do a swineherd's swine, right?
I would point out that being a maid probably requires far less interaction and trust than being a shield grog. Not to be too depressing, but domestic servants throughout history have dealt with unpleasant, repulsive, and even abusive bosses, simply because the familial career standard is such that that's all you're likely to know how to do, to have resources and social support for doing, and there's probably one-ish prospective bosses who live in the same place as your family (and, though this is less universally true for magi, usually your family was already working for those people anyway). So the real answer to "why be [domestic servants] for [person with Gift]" is "that's the person with wealth who will hire me, and either my family is here or I can't go anywhere else due to some scandal or outsider status or whatnot."
It's worth keeping in mind, covenfolk (especially first-generation hires for new covenants) are usually drawn from those who can't get work elsewhere for whatever reason. The Order of Hermes is itself extremely egalitarian amongst themselves by medieval standards, because the rareness and non-heredity of the Gift has historically meant that magi with strict standards for apprentices propagate their lineages far less. And coming from that viewpoint, as well as being hated by everyone outside the Order since you were young, means most covenants are quite comfortable hiring the otherwise-considered-unhirable. Covenfolk tend to be outsiders nearly as much as those they work for - people trying to break gender and sexual norms, people of despised minority religions, people who can't maintain their careers due to negative Reputation and who were cast out by their families or the like.
Why would you be a shield grog for the creepy, disreputable wizard? Maybe because you're a creepy, disreputable bandit, and this is the closest to "going straight" life has offered you. Maybe because you're a lesbian with nothing but the weapons you stole as you fled your home village after being caught with your lover, and the alternative is you and her starving to death. Maybe you're a former emir who was stripped of rank and exiled into Christian lands after sleeping with your Muqta's wife, and the magi, as creepy and vile as they clearly are, are the only ones you've met who don't treat you like shit and are willing to give you something close to your old living standard. Plenty of options.
I think there are two questions to answer separately. One is how you recruit new people, the other is how you retain and raise grogs in a steady state covenant.
One thing can be said in general is that the reasons to stay are always relative to the reasons to go. The magi do not have to be very generous to make a superior alternative to servitude at the next manor around. A few magic buffs can also boost survival rates. This just might suffice to explain how grogs are retained.
The «outcasts attract outcasts» hypothesis is an old one, and an important one, but I am not that fond of caricatured stereotypes. The outcasts would still not trust the regular Gifted magus. We need other reasons, but if the covenant-raised ones is the vast majority, maybe the outcasts make out the majority of the remainder.
But at the end of the day, I think most sagas trivialise the grogs too much, particularly those dealing with the founding of a new Spring covenant. I think recruiting grogs and servants (and scribes) would have to be a major theme when a new covenant is established. The only plausible approach I see is that grogs as gifts from the alma mater, but I cannot quite see the alma maters staffing an entire new covenant to player satisfaction.
Lots of good things may arise from dealing harshly with recruitment. It would make the cast smaller, and we can spend more time roleplaying the loyal grogs and less time bookkeeping the numerous specialists doing library work and cost savings and whatnot.
One simple remark:
Grog Sergeants and Autocrats - more in general the mundane persons who run the turb and the covenant - are critical for a succeding Spring covenant. If these are accustomed to magi - or at very least a particular magus - from the beginning, they are a valuable Gift from a sponsoring covenant or a parens.
These people will hire further staff, run interface between magi and staff for years, make themselves indispensable and help to preserve the relations between Spring covenant and sponsors.
Those Spring magi wishing to leapfrog such dependencies from the start better be Gentle Gifted ...
This is very true, and further, one should note that one autocrat has very limited power if all the maids clearing the magi's chamber pots start panicking. Same goes for the sergeants; the covenant would need at least two, one to adventure and one to hold the fort at home.
Valuable gifts indeed, but probably not enough to solve all the problems.
One should be aware that handling the effects of the Gift is two different things. Experienced mundanes can learn to recognise it, and suppress it rationally, without ever loosing the bad feeling. Covenfolk can be accustomed to «their» magi [ArM5:76]. This means that covenfolk from one magus' alma mater will not handle the other magi very well. In consequence, each magus need their own loyal servant or shield grog from their home covenant. An Alma Mater providing one such grog with the skill to recruit others is a boon of a different league, as you suggest.
The outcasts would still not trust the regular Gifted magus.
I think I may have misphrased my point. My argument was never that the outcast characters would have some natural affinity for the magi due to a shared sense of being outsiders. I've spent more than enough time among different marginalized communities to know that, while many members do believe in such solidarity, a pretty proportionate number are angry about their specific treatment but otherwise share in the cultural narratives that marginalize other groups.
Rather, my point is that mutual desperation invites odd bedfellows. It's the magi I expect to have abnormally open-minded hiring standards, and the contribution that outsider status makes to the mundanes is that it deprives them of opportunities elsewhere. If your options are "work with the awful creeps at the wizard coven" or "starve to death because nobody else will hire you and the Church doesn't give charity to your kind," awful creepy wizards is the less bad option. They won't even be good employees, which I think is fairly well represented by the rules in Covenants, but they'll work if you're the only people offering a job.
There is an interesting hiring agent for covenants with silver to spare: Marcus of Paris (TLatL p.86).
Marcus also finds skilled people willing to enter the service of covenants, in exchange for a fee from either party. Many characters, with all kinds of unlikely backgrounds, drift to Paris. Marcus recruits the best of them, trains some in a little Latin, and sends them to covenants throughout the tribunal. A young covenant using Marcus’ services will gain a complete complement of servants, but they are likely to have colorful histories.
People will tolerate a fair bit of poor treatment in a job, if there are other elements that are good, or the other options are worse.
They get to live in a magical aura. AM Core rulebook P184.
" Magical areas are intense. Colors are more striking, sounds more piercing, the day brighter, the night deeper. "
That seems compelling.
Most covenant people will get a lifestyle bonus. In game terms that manifests as a bonus on aging rolls, however, if one thinks of the nice mundane things that means, another bonus.
Most covenant grogs, recover from harsh wounds. That doesn't happen for mundane warriors. Any covenant without "Purification of the Festering Wound" deserve a grog revolt.
Poor treatment is not the concern. Magi have no reason to treat their staff poorly. The Gift is a supernatural effect which you cannot outsmart. The core book suggest at least a decade to learn to live with it, during which time the grog does not trust the magus. They may choose to enjoy the benefits under guarded caution, but what does that help in a desperate situation on an adventure?
In front of you, you have a monster, or brigands, or a luring tempter of a demon. Behind you, you have that treacherous old bastard of a wizard who cannot be trusted. What do you do? Really? When real life hits you?
Maybe you've been lucky enough never to have had a creepy boss. I imagine there are some people on the forum who could explain how much creepiness one may have to deal with, if the rent is due.
A shield grog does the things that keeps him and those he cares about alive. Part of keeping those one cares about alive is a steady income.
That may means taking the job, where the boss is creepy, but there seems to be a real dislike of campaigning for more than 10 days a season. Seems safer than most other jobs.
That may mean supporting the creepy guy who when things goes bad literally makes the ground open up and swallow a cavalry line charge. Again, seems safer than most martial jobs.
In the campaign I'm in, I play a magi with the gentle gift. For self interest reasons, to give my magi more airtime, I should play up the gift penalty. It's bad, and it really comes out in short term social interactions, but the way some people are talking about shield grog reactions, is more how I'd play Blatant Gift. Most people will accept someone creepy if they get the job done.
The point is that I have only ever had to deal with naturally creepy people. You describe the rational reaction to natural displeasure. The Gift, even the regular one, operates on a different level, where your rational analysis is not relevant.
I agree that this does not mean that the shield grog will never be able to do what they are supposed to, but in a dire situation the effect of Gift is likely to overrule rationality and long-term interests. The grog may simply forget the benefits. Not that such forgetting is necessarily supernatural. The regular Gift should not be as bad as the blatant Gift, but neither should it be as easy as the gentle Gift.
Covenants handles this well for downtime crowd management. It is easy to forget that it should be roleplayed on stage too.
OP concerns are valid. Not unsurmountable, but enough to be a challenge.
Oh, if we're not worried so much about why somebody would take the job to begin with and more about how reliable they are when the chips are down, then my answer is: they probably aren't, but players do like to make weirdos. This is well-covered by the Personality rules, for which I'd apply the Gift penalty to determining whether they'll act to the magus's benefit in situations that test their bravery or loyalty or whatnot. Even somebody with an enormous (though not mythic) sense of integrity and courage, represented by +3s, becomes about as willing to sell the magi out or run out on him as the average merc would when faced with something like dragons or ghosts, and God forbid you get a below-average person in those respects or have the Blatant Gift, in which case they're probably robbing you when you leave them on watch and will sell you up the first river they see.
Which isn't ideal, but still worth it to have one. 90% of the benefit of a shield grog for a magus who doesn't pursue combat is just to make himself a less appealing target for robbery.