One aspect of Ars Magica I find irritating is the tendency of players to want to haul their magi out away from their studies at the drop of a hat instead of sending grogs or companions to deal with things. I'm considering implementing rules for continuous study and am looking for suggestions and opinions whether a carrot or stick is the better approach- for example penalize multi-season activates that are interrupted, or give bonuses to staying on task (or both). I don't want to penalize those who have legitimate character reasons for going on adventure (my research requires a remote hidden resource, ready an expedition!) but I want to encourage them to send underlings when the adventure would be an interruption to their projects. (Yeah, I get the baron's daughter is lost in the faerie woods again, I made that helm of true seeing, send a team to deal with it)
First off, in my current ongoing saga I made a huge mistake along these lines, I made a hot headed warrior-type Flambeau in an attempt to play against type and she pretty much wants to go on every adventure and I practically have to find absurd in-game reasons she doesn't. I have purposefully not learned ReCo teleport despite those being her highest arts so I can still sometimes use the "I'm in the Lab" excuse. My Companion, on the other hand, is a scribe and hardly goes on any adventures despite me trying to make a character that was all "I want to write about heroes going on adventures so I should go on an adventure."
Second, in every group I've been in most of the players seem to have some fun playing grogs or companions, sometimes they have loved playing a particular grog so much they promote them to be their companion. But I have sometimes seen the "All the magi, all the time" thing and it surprises me. The whole "never Split the Party" needs to be destroyed for this game though but I think that feeling may be hard to kill and, of course, the related piece, "My maga/magus is my primary character."
I think it needs to start early with character design and expectations at Session 0. I think one way might be to have the players first create grogs or companions, this is their character for the first adventure. "Don't even think about your magus-level character yet." (Impossible, sure.) This is somewhat similar to some beginner saga advice I keep recommending on the Ars discord because it seems great even though I've never started a saga using it and, I admit, making and thinking of my magi first is common for me as well. But even more important than any of that is try to get your players excited about the companions they are making though that's not helpful advice as what will do that is different for every player.
Make adventures take more than a month away from the covenant. This gets increasingly difficult with ease of travel shenanigans but "I'm taking that piddly adventure xp instead of returning and reading for 2 months for full benefit of the book" has been a disincentive to many I've played with from bringing their magi on an adventure, and it gets a lot harder once the ReCo instant travel spells come into play which they often do.
Make adventures require folks with specialized knowledge such as Area Lores. You might still find that place or thing on a lucky roll but it's likely to take longer if no one is the guy who knows the area and hiring a shady guide might be an option but maybe he'd just lead them into a bandit ambush or he might do that accidentally and just run at the first sign of trouble because he doesn't like or trust most of the magi either.
Maybe while all the Magi are away, the next adventure happens while the magi are away and is folks at the covenant who were left behind having to defend it against serious odds and with serious possible repercussions. Maybe a Quaesitor visits while all the magi are gone and is suspiciously nosing into their business.
Anyhow, these are a few ideas I can think of but most are more stick than carrot except whatever one can do to incentivize interest in companions and grogs.
I would use something like this:
Ad1, A season fully used - even the ten free days - in laboratory/for study will give the magi +1 for the Source quality or +d10 for the Lab Total.
Ad2, In every season you receive a +1 bonus to your Source Quality/Lab Total if you also used the previous season dedicated to your studies/lab work.
Ad1 and Ad2 can be cumulative.
There is an optional rule for continuous research on HoH:TL p.18. For each uninterrupted season of lab work on a same project you gain 1 xp, it builds like an ability and adds to your lab total. It's not clear to me if this is supposed to reset if you change subjects or do something else (such as reading a book) or if it stays with you for good (spend 5 seasons researching topic A and reach score 1, take a break for a season to work on your arts, when you come back you still have that score at 1).
Personally, I think I would make it rise like an Art, but reset if you do anything else (and probably cap the bonus at 5 or something like that).
I vaguely recall a cumulative bonus to each subsequent Int roll for searching information in a library for several seasons (there was a cap), but I can't recall which book. It might not even be Ars TBH.
If it is, maybe you could use it as inspiration.
Maybe you could simply change how much time is considered a distraction. Losing a couple of days doesn't penalize the magus, but what if even 1 missed lab day meant you lose that season? Won't work as well for reading books, but for lab work it might be worth it trying.
You might even couple it with the bonus idea. "Each season of continuous lab work rises your continuity bonus by +1 (up to +5), but as your work gets more complex you cannot spend time away from it. Each bonus point diminishes by 2 the days you can spend away from lab (so a person with +5 can spend at most 1 day away or lose both the season and the bonus accrued)".
The "My Magi is my Main character" thing is sometimes hard to break, even if they are actually often the least interesting characters to actually play. For long running games focusing on "The Covenant is the only character that matters" can do it. Normally my groups have spent a "chill night" and then the first "session" building the Covenant before we even get to any characters. Getting it into everyone's head that the Covenant is a giant collaborative character and the most important one (since it must be built before anything else) makes a big difference.
My group actually ended up with the opposite issue, that of the Magi never leaving or doing anything other than staying in their labs. We actually put in a HR to allow adventure XP to be combined with normal seasonal XP in the hope that it would encourage the use of Magi more, but it actually ended up as more of a boost to the varies peons people enjoyed playing. Making up a HR is not really the answer for changing the amount of Magi involvement, a change of play style is.
Design adventures that the Magi are detrimental to, generally interacting with mundanes. Adventures in which "the Magi can't know about this!" also work.
Make the comparison of the Magi to the owners/officers of a business. If the Magi have to "do everything" then they are micro managing and forcing unnecessary interaction with the Covenfolk which should have a noticeable affect on Covenant moral. When they start to lose important Covenfolk who leave because "the creepy buggers think I am worthless and can't do my job" it can really hit home.
For me, it depends on the characters I play. Legitimate character reasons is all relative. My blatant gifted character probably can't be persuaded he should interact with mundanes if he can avoid it. My gentle gifted knight wannabe magi with independent study probably can't be persuaded to stay away from adventure if it's for the sake of the covenant, unless the timing is such that he believes it will endanger an already started lab season. He can fully delegate, but if he thinks it's dangerous, he's just that much more likely to go. Another lab rat Bonisagus I made pretty much stayed in her lab all the time, and used companions to fetch things for her to study. You couldn't bring her out of the lab unless the covenant was under siege, most likely.
Handling it in a meta way is an option. Sit down with the players and say you want more grog/companion adventures.
When we are talking about bonuses and penalties, the carrot and stick is all relative. Add a "carrot", anyone not receiving the carrot sees it as getting the stick.
To answer the question actually asked and give options. Here's a small stick.
1.Slightly adjust the existing mechanic.
Add a level of randomness to the ability to be up to 10 days away a season.
Every day after day 3 roll a stress die (with 0 being 10, not a botch chance), and add the amount of days away from the lab to the roll. (A bit like an aging roll). Any result of 14 or more loses 1 XP from the season activity; or if it is a lab activity, reduces the lab total by the amount over 14.
Obviously the number of 3 days, and 14 target can be adjusted. I chose 3, as I imagine a day trip to chat to the local lord, or to teleport to the closest covenant and have a chat, etc, is fine. On day 4, an unlucky roll involving a 1 can ruin a project, and there is a 16% chance of losing 1 XP. Every day past day 4, there's a risk of losing the lab activity and being stuck accepting the adventure XP.
2. Make adventure XP better, but mandatory
A part carrot, part stick option. Make adventure XP high, such as 10XP, but which skills the adventure XP goes to is allocated by you based on what was done in the adventure. Adventure XP must be taken instead of the lab activity if the adventure is more than 3 days (same logic as above. I imagine you don't have problems with day trips).
An issue with Grogs/Companions is they advance really slow compared to a magi. Most well designed grogs/companions will have their core skills at 5s or 6s and there useful associated skills (such as area lore) at 2s and 3s. It can be years to see any skill growth.
While I appreciate not everyone is a grognard, needing to see there companion/grogs numbers increase, having the grogs get 10 adventure XP instead of 2 exposure XP, could help have the players get more connected to their grogs and companions and want to use them more.
With all due respect, I think you ask the wrong question.
If the troupe wants to tell all-magi stories, the question should be how to make good all-magi stories.
If the troupe does not want to play their companions, the question might be how we make good companion stories.
Much of the advice so far has been more rules and more bookkeeping. To me that is just aggravating the underlying problem. I don't play Ars Magica for the sake of the tactical game of lab work and advancement. I play it for roleplaying, and I want to develop the magus' character and personality. Playing maybe fortnightly 2-3h sessions less some cancellations and some time as SG, as is one of my current sagas, there is hardly enough time to develop the magus in play, and when there might time to play something else, I have forgotten how to play the companion.
Don't get me wrong, I want to develop a wider range of characters, but that vision was a lot more realistic 25 years ago, when we played weekly 6-8h sessions and sometimes more.
Now, if your game is the tactical rollplaying, I rest my case; different games need different answers.
If the game is roleplaying OTOH, one has to go back to the already mentioned Session 0, and really ask, what characters do we want to play? How many characters can we reasonably develop? How crippled should the magi be socially by the Gift?
It is quite likely that the answer should be a smaller covenant, with a smaller cast,
throwing out some of the craftsmen and non-adventurous types, and less bookkeeping to give time for everyone to develop two characters and occasionaly play pool grogs.
It is a well-known trick in storytelling that the number of characters is trimmed down to a minimum, to avoid a complexity that the listener cannot follow.
But at the end of the day, the question is what the troupe wants to play, and not how to trick them into playing something they don't want.
The problem I run into is that the Magi want to have a bunch of them go on adventures, and bring a companion or two, and then bring six grogs, and nobody wants to play the grogs, so they are end up either (A) useless because they do nothing, or (B) NPCs that I have to deal with.
In my latest campaign I did explicitly state that any grogs not claimed by players are background only and not going to take active action.
That's a problem we have too. I'm not so sure how to solve it.
I am a big fan of the 1 Magi, 1 Companion, X Grogs adventure, mainly because it gives the Magi time to really really hog the spotlight in terms of "Subtle and Quick to Anger" but it also lets the Companion dominate the whole party face role.
That and heroically dying as Grog can be fun too, without wasting a character that took an hour or so to make.
Most recently we have 2 mages, 2 companions, a companions magical animal companion, and 2 grogs with only 4 players making it to the session, so one guy was stuck playing 1 mage, 2 grogs, and the second companion just sort of hung out in the shadows (his player wasn't there).
The 1+1+X adventure has to be designed for 1+1+X. The magical mystery tour, which mainly tests the party's creativity with spells to solve a puzzle, is essentially an X+0+0 adventure.
We do have a problem with magi who wants to do everything themselves, from spell casting, to bartering with the innkeeper, to campfire cooking, but that's not really specific to Ars Magica. All good RP depends on characters who see each other and push others into the limelight, even if it is just on a flimsy excuse like «I don't feel too well, can't you go?»
BTW. The six groups are easy enough to handle with group rules. We only need to play the ones who take initiative or interact directly.
Our group has the same challenge whereby players want to focus on their magi. I am the opposite and would play 'Ars Companion' at the drop of a hat. Where it becomes a pain for me when I am the ST and everyone runs around with their magi, is that the power level in the group is simply insane. To still create an adventure that offers some challenge (and be the adventure type the players enjoy) becomes a problem.
We have spoken about this in our game, but if the players are simply not interested in making and playing a companion character (and a grog...neva!!!), then there is only so much you can do.
In another Ars Magica game I play in, it is quite opposite where the players actively pick up grogs and make it an absolute memorable gaming experience. In that game, the storyteller simply states that one or two magi is allowed, the rest have to take other characters and that is the end of it. Instead of complaining, the players do so and then make the most of it - which makes it fantastic.
My conclusion is that it all depends on your group and what they enjoy doing. I cannot change the players in my 1st-mentioned group and love the players too much to end up arguing over it. Best thing I would say is to talk about it with your group and see if they can be convinced, but if not, do not force it. We play because we want to enjoy what we do.
Part of this is also the difference between IRL games where you get the group that is available and online games where you get the group which is interested. I tend towards online (primarily because I cannot find a RL group interested in ars magica), but a lot of people online are ready to jump into almost any game if the house rules fit what they want and not care so much how the SG presents how the setting is designed to be played (sure you said that we should only use mages about one out of every 5 adventures but I will contrive a reason to bring my age on every single adventure!) so setting up appropriate rules to the design simply makes sense to me. In My Opinion a mage should already be reluctant to go on adventures which interrupt their study in part because they are likely to advance more quickly by studying and adventures are (for the characters) unpleasant, uncomfortable, and dangerous, while for the players they are exciting and interesting, and if we are on an adventure to (metaphorically) go to the grocery store to get oregano, which is critically needed for tonight's dinner, why not bring along our AR-15, drive a tank and have a javelin anti tank rocket launcher handy in case the police decide to pull us over and have a law enforcement armored vehicle handy. Or in game turns have the mages running around handling trivial tasks that might present challenges to grogs but will be a cake walk for mages.
Back in AM2, iirc, the combat and magic rules themselves encouraged magi to bring grogs along.
Spells went off very late in the combat round compared to physical actions, due to sequencing of events.
Fast-casting formulaic spells was not a thing. You could only fast-cast spontaneous magic and there was no roll to see if the fast-cast went off on time. This made spontaneous magic more important (and the benefit of Diedne Magic relatively more useful) because it was the only way to use magic as a reactive defense, which on the one hand was more reliable (except for botches on spont/2) but on the other generated smaller totals. So if you wanted a reaction, it would likely be a non-magical reaction.
Twilight was deadlier, so if you wanted a character to live long, it was better to avoid perilous adventure in favor of rp-heavy scenarios and, of course, time in the library and lab.
Adventuring was an even less appealing source of xp.
From a player's perspective, however, it is a lot of fun to play those powerful magi and put those abilities to use. So I see it as natural that reality has largely moved past the AM ideal adventure for one magus + companions + grogs. A new edition of the game (as opposed to AM5.5) might do well to revision how this works. (I have thoughts, but those belong elsewhere.)
Getting players more interested in grogs is definitely a hard choice. A trap I fell into before but am trying to pedal back from, is I think I was a bit too generous with my xp for adventures. When the players go out, I don't want them to feel like they've wasted their time so I tend to be nice with adventure xp... But a lot of people are willing to lose 2-3 xp to go on an adventure... very few would consider the loss of 5+xp to be worthwhile unless they had to deal with it themselves.
Very good point, but only partially true. In previous editions both adventuring and study were indispensable. Arts could not be learnt in the field, but many abilities could not be studied. Admittedly, a monomaniac magus who never leaves the lab does not need field skills, but still ...
As primarily a player, I feel that there is an element of this situation that I think of as the "investment of time" factor.
Developing a magus character takes a signficant investment of time, thought, and calculation which scales higher if it's a magus some years post gauntlet. That investment of time and effort makes me care more about the magus character which makes me want to see them on screen more.
But it can also drive a kind of preservation instinct: "I don't want my character to be killed off or fundamentally altered into a magical being by the Great Spirit of … but that turned out to be spectularly interesting after all… so maybe adventures are the way to go…"
As a player, I find myself moving between those two motivations: more time on stage vs. preservation. Often the appeal of the spotlight wins out.
The thing that holds back having that same feeling with a companion, for me, is tied to how much effort and investment I've made in building the character. I'm often making a companion "after the fact." I wonder if leaning into a house-rule or situation where the companion is perhaps more capable, more magical, or has a richer story might increase that drive to have them on stage more. I also think the suggestions of building companions, grogs, and covenant first may be helpful, though I think building companions alongside magi is my preferred approach.
The other element of the "investment of time" factor is that the real development of a magus character's power and capability is measured in seasons and years of off-stage activity. The lab work, the study, etc. isn't all that fun to roleplay. It's part of the meta-game so to speak akin to how "building the covenant" is something of a meta-aspect of the game both of which are essentials.
So the pace of the storytelling in ArM has a big impact on who a player wants to put on stage whether in person or online. If an adventure in any given season takes months of real-time to play through, that can drive people to want to be involved which may be driving their desire to put their magus on-stage. It might just be FOMO around the adventure. But I think the over-arching pace of a game in real-time is a factor. People want to play, want to be involved, and that drives decisions as well.
So perhaps a solution, as others have said in various ways, is to organize the large story arc into "times of adventure" and "the passing of seasons." For example, you could build a schedule as a troupe: the next quarter (3 months), we're focusing on Adventure X and Adventure Y. Then in the next real-time time period we're going to have 3 years (12 seasons) of game time pass, and we'll spend our time with off-stage work, back story, advancement, etc.
Having a clear sense of the story schedule might help players find balance in which characters they put on-stage and when.
Just sharing a few thoughts from someone who is forever learning about ArM.
Off topic but I really wanna hear that story. Maybe in the off-topic channel on the Wake of the Schism discord. Definitely fits with the sort of "gambling with the lives of my fictional characters" that I love.
Nor does a magus who brings along companions and grogs to handle situations where Mentem or Ignem are not sufficient!
Yes, they do. Penetration, parma magica, and finesse are field skills.