I had a setting I'm working on and part of the plot/setting is that Redcaps will disappear/fade away for a long period of time. This will have an effect of isolating many Covenants. I was wondering what the Board thought of the effect this would have on the long term experience gained by magi. I'm looking at it from a game mechanic view. If, with Redcaps delivering books and such, nets 30xp a year when making a mage post apprenticeship ( ArM5 pg 32). I had a thought that this might drop that experience to 25 or even 20 per year. Reasoning is the books are getting circulated much less.
It depends a lot on the covenant and magi in question.
If you live at Durenmar, it's not going to affect your magical advancement.
If you are a Jerbiton putting most xp in Charm, Etiquette, Intrigue, it's similarly unlikely to affect you much.
If you are a young magus in a backwater spring covenant, it may well hurt your Art advancement a lot... or not so much, e.g. if you resort to studying from vis and you have both an adequate vis supply and a strong Aura.
Also, consider that 30xp is already a rather lowish total: in my saga, magi usually do quite a bit better. So my suggestion is: keep the 30xp, and say that 30xp (say, 15 from books, 15 from other sources) is the result of isolation - if magi were less isolated, they could do better (say, 40 xp/year, 25 from books and 15 from other sources).
Redcaps are a historical legacy in the Order - if they started disappearing, the delivery aspect of their raison d'tre could be fairly easily replaced by an enterprising Rego enchantment specialist - especially for things like books, that can be carried via someone's Personal-range Leap of Homecoming.
From what I understand, the reason this hasn't happened already in the Order is because the Redcaps also run an intelligence network along their physical travel routes, which necessitate the Redcaps physically walking/travelling along them and talking to folks and whatnot. That's useful enough to the Order that no one has bothered replacing the mail service yet.
EDIT - of the four things the Redcaps do: Vis Trading, Mail Delivery, Bulk Transport(?), and Intelligence Gathering - mail and small-goods delivery is the easiest to replicate, IMO. Vis Trading will likely fracture until someone sets up a similar concept - it's too lucrative to ignore, so the Tribunals will probably have to get involved. Bulk Delivery will likely suffer the most, until someone develops those flying boats (and/or until someone ponys up the vis to cast those underground tunnel spells). And Intelligence gathering is probably the hardest hit.
This is assuming that the Mercere as a whole completely fall down on the job - if it's just "some of the outer delivery paths aren't getting tread as often as usual," then I can see it as not being as much of an issue. However, that still just takes one ReCo specialist figuring out that he can make some serious vis by setting up his own "one day a month" delivery system.
Depends upon whether your saga enforces casting requisites. Carrying that book becomes a lot harder when they need to improve their Animal, Terram, Herbam, Vim to get ReCo(An,He,Te,Vi) to a casting total of 35. And, how did they get the ACs to the diverse places without Redcaps? Grogs? Also books of the period were large, If you can carry it, I generally let it go through, but if you're just touching it, no, it's staying.
Animal for the leather, Herbam for the wood boards, Terram for the ink (this one I'm less picky about, I could live without requiring it) and Vim if it has been clarified, or perhaps if there is a resonant material. It's also arguable if the resonant materials could kick off a requirement for a different form if one were stingy, but I think Vim is probably enough to cover any and all resonant materials.
There's no reason to add Vim, just because "it's magic".
If you use ie. gold to get a resonance bonus, you get that bonus because it's gold, and this will be fully covered using Terram.
And if this is your main worry, simplify.
Don't bother transporting bound books, an unbound manuscript teleposts just as fine when I hold it in my hand, and suddently, no Herbam requisite. etc.
Further reductions are left as an excercise for the reader.
Transforming Europe has a good bit of material on why house Mercere has outlived itself, though not under that header.
Or we could take a look at some of the scribal magics in Covenants.
I wouldn't be adding Vim to make it harder; I'd be allowing Vim to be a substitute for resonant materials, generally.
The pages are covered by animal, but the ink on the page (this is where I think I'm quibbling with myself on Terram) because a lot of inks had metals in them, metals that are now on the page making the letters...
This is assuming the Order is attacked and the Redcaps and House Mercere are the main/initial target. They and many of their records will not exist.
Even that Rego specialist would have trouble covering the entire Order. He would not know where the all Covenants are located. And it would take time. I can see magi doing it for a while but then it is like a job. Not many Magi want to server the Order. Even for a profit. They will want to spend that profit. I could see them covering a Tribunal for a while but not for long.
I'm not going to argue the setting or what is run. The question is would it effect the long term experience of magi. Think 20, 30 or 50 years without a steady service. How much of that 30xp ( or we could say 10xp per season for 40) is based on books? How much would switch to teaching or vis? would it have no effect because of these other two?
I'm working on a "reboot" that starts in 1520. For various reasons, I've cleared out some houses and weakened the Order due to enemies, constant warfare in the Europe, the Ottoman invasion, The Mongols and another Schism war. As I think about making characters I was wondering if the lack of a Order wide book trade would effect the EXP earned.
Which is an issue until the next Tribunal, at which point everyone exchanges addresses - unless they WANT to be off the grid, in which case the Redcaps wouldn't have their address to begin with. And thus House Mercere v2 is formed. This is the same way someone gets AC's to every location: they agree to set up a "mail shed" at each covenant, and at the next tribunal everyone brings a fixed AC to that shed, along with an agreement that it's OK to scry the shed prior to teleporting in.
Or alternately, Covenenants add in a "season of service" requirement to their magi, to require that one of them deliver the mail every season - thus distributing the role of House Mercere to individual Covanents. Which is not as efficient, but it does likely link each Covenent to the main "mail hubs" in the Tribunal, where they leave packages for each other's Mail Grog to pick up.
Or if it's strictly a logistical issue, they end up using the mundane way of delivering goods, which everyone else in Europe uses: give the package to a merchant, who passes it on to his own contacts. Seeing as this is paid in silver, there's not much of an issue - although it likely takes a bit longer.
Or paired scrying mirrors, set up in a covenant's Scriptorium - allowing individuals to copy books from centralized locations.
And that's just off the top of my head. Are there issues with those plans? of course. But the idea of "Oh, the Redcaps are gone. Guess we won't try to replace this incredibly useful yet somewhat inefficient service with something else!" ...strains my understanding of both rational self-interest, as well as my understanding of game mechanics.
Hence my comment about being an enchanter - Seven League Stride boots are likely well-documented. An middle-aged enchanter can reasonably make a pair or two every season. Hand them to your grogs, along with a low-level levitation ability (so that they teleport straight up, then over, then down), and you're all set. Again - are there issues with that? Sure. Basically, this is just re-creating the Mercere on a per-Covanent (Or Tribunal) basis. And if there is an enemy picking off the mundane Redcaps, then yes - you're going to have to have more heavily-armed caravans, or have a Magi do it for a week every Season as part of their annual Service. But that just means that magi get their books in bursts: on a yearly basis, whenever the caravan comes around, rather than on a seasonal one.
And the answer is "you'd loose a couple points for the first few seasons, and then someone would get irritated enough at the crappy mail service to do something about it, thus modernizing the Redcaps and making them considerably more efficient in terms of small package delivery." Unless the war was on-going, in which case you're in the middle of the equivalent of the Schism war, and study really probably isn't on most magi's minds.
Were I a PC in your game, I'd go along with this exactly until it started affecting my seasonal XP count - then I'd spend a season or two to solve the problem, at least for my own covenant: linking it up to Duremar, or a similarly-large covenant in the Tribunal. At which point, it's not an issue any more for the PC's. Assuming one magi at every covenant does that within the first 20 years or so, it ceases to be an issue.
If this was a known long-term issue, no PC of mine would leave the parent covenant until they were a Rego specialist - or at least until they got someone to make the aforementioned 7-league stride boots for them, or whatever. So the XP/year issue would never occur, as no PC would leave the place where the books were until they could easily get back to the place where the books were.
At the least: spending a season every year physically walking back to the main Covenent and picking up the annual book supply would still only cut into the xp curve by 25% or so. And if the option is "don't have any books at all", then that's what's likely going to happen, as Vis study is incredibly inefficient.
So I suppose my response is "no more than 25%, if that" - the worst-case scenario is that there is a yearly armed caravan of books and supplies and whatnot. Books are too efficient a resource that, even allowing for a season of interrupted work to put the caravan together every year, magi are still only a couple of weeks of mundane travel away from the central Tribunal covenant libraries. Magi would simply take on the role of Redcaps themselves, and do so less efficiently.
XP sources would then functionally be based on yearly XP gain, rather than seasonal. And magi (and PC's) would plan their study strategies on a yearly basis, rather than a seasonal one. And book-copying would become much more of a thing, as it would be much less efficient to loan someone a book (as it would take a year at least to get it back.)
The issue is out at the end of the XP curve - once you've burned your way through the Roots and Branches. At that point, it's an issue of studying tractus vs. experimenting with vis. But again: you pick up 3 or 4 tractus on the yearly delivery, rather than one every season.
The other issue would be inventing spells vs. re-creating them through lab notes. You could plan such activities a year in advance, and get them on the caravan - but if you had to invent that spell within the next season or two, you wouldn't have easy access to those notes.
Other thought: in canon, one of the reasons covenents are founded is because Tribunals have a (moderately) efficient mail system that new covenants can hook into. Thus, Gauntleted magi can strike out on their own, knowing that the libraries of the Order are just, at worst, a season away.
If this was no longer the case, then Covenents wouldn't be founded as easily. Instead, they would likely wait until they had the core Hermetic libraries (ie, a full set of Roots and Branches) with them, then bring them along when they founded the covenant. At the least, they would bring a full set of Roots with them, as they're relatively inexpensive, and the mail service wasn't enough for them to get them whenever they liked.
So unless there's some in-game reason why a covenant would have to be founded without a core library, I don't see this as being an issue.
Also - if this is 1580, we're well past the point of Gutenberg. The printing press has been in play for centuries, and Europe is producing hundreds of millions of books every year. If anything, books are less expensive, and thus a magus is more likely to get a copy of one. (Unless magic books have to be copied by hand, I suppose.)
KevinSchultz gave a very thorough answers and I agrees with him.
To elaborate a bit more.
In general, an unprepared magus may or may not be able to face an unexpected situation. However, given time, a covenant of a few magi can overcome any problem by dedicating enough season of work.
In the case you are describing, the disappearance of Redcap, a few scenarios are possible:
They are fading slowly away, so magi noticed a decrease in Mercere's service performance. When it starts affecting their work, magi will investigate and either stop the problem and restore the system or implement an alternative solution. All in all, no impact on the learning curve.
Mercere's services stop suddendly. Immediate investigation from all magi, since we are not only talking about Redcap but also Mercere magi, their domus magnus which is both the Fort Knox of virtus and the central post office with hundreds of very private message in transit and records of agreements, deals and secret history. That's going to be investigate very, very quickly by a lot of very powerful and concerned magi, with a good pinch of Quaesitores thrown in. There will a few years of uncertainty, but quickly ad hoc replacement will be but in place. Since Mercere's mission was a legacy of the first Primi and they earned trust over centuries of faithful and dedication, it will take time to find a substitute. But I would see a subgroup of magi and companion, not unlike the hoplite emerging. Although instead of being know as defender of the Order, they will be know as faithful servant of the Order. They could swear an specific Oath and have certain privileges balanced with obligation. All in all, a rebirth of House Mercere, but instead of being a specific House, more a subgroup of mages from every House dedicated to fulfill some of Mercere's role.
In this case, after a few initial rocky years, business with resume as normal, maybe with some new quirks, maybe with less frequent, but more bulk delivery as mentionned Kevin. So learning will not be affected.
According to your initial question, the disappearance of Redcap's service happen at least a few decades ago. There is plenty of magical tools to replace Mercere's service:
for urgent delivery, teleporting or flying messenger already exists in RAW.
for bulk delivery, create flying, invisible boat takes some ressources, but is very doable (exemple of the Sylph, which takes 5 seasons in total to build, with the highest labtotal required of 34 in ReHe to instill the various effects)
for vis lending, I would see here at least three Houses jumping on the occasion to fill the vacuum: House Tremere knows since a very long time the value of controlling ressources and becoming the virtus bank of the Order would put then in a very strong situation to be able to infer a lot of things just base on virtus transaction (how much and which time of virtus is sought of by such and such is pretty useful info - like tracking now credit card usage), Jerbiton because of their more frequent contact with the mundane world are first hand witness of the Venitian and Lombar banker development and could easily copy-paste their ways of working, and finally House Verditius would love to be in this business to cut the middle man and be in direct control of their most useful ressources. In fact, you can have all three competing and offering services with various benefices and drawbacks.
I only see a couple of things that could be lost for good and hard to replace:
Mercere's Portal. They are the equivalent of Hermes Portal except that they are permanent. It is a secret kept by the House, so depending how they disappeared, it was kept or lost. Some Bonisagus might be very keen on rediscovery this lost secret.
Mercere's secret rituals. It is hinted in a few books that's altough there is more efficient ways to deliver message that walking from covenant to covenant, the reason redcaps keep doing it could be some secret road rituals originating from the old Roman road network. Is it true or was it just a rumor spread by redcaps to enhance their role and importance ?
Then there is also the bloodline of Mutantum magician, which would be a great loss until their abilities are integrated in Magic Theory.
If the Redcaps are disappearing, the canon House Tremere is going to 1) assume that it's an attack on the Order and start investigating, and 2) act in a concerted means to secure and improve the Order's logistics.
Obviously, YSMV, but it's something to consider addressing for your background.
Thanks for the insight. Gives me more to think about. I did ask the question in a vacuum not explaining all of the other in Order changes along with the historic changes to the Order. Most of which take into account some of the issues. I think I will end up varying it between 40-30 per year. While there would be book trade it would be more limited to the Order as a whole. Better locally but knowledge might spread slower.