Another thing is that... I can't bring myself to play a grog. I'd rather let NPCs be NPCs. Yes, I know it's not supposed to be the normal playstyle for ars magicka. I'm willing to throw a few dices for the trained group protecting my magi, but that's about it. Companions though, if they're interesting, it's a different story. But yeah, even that has taken some effort to get the players at my table interested to play. At least one has repeatedly said he'd rather not have to update two characters in previous campaigns.
@temprobe how would you feel about playing a group of grogs? For example a 6 grog military unit?
That sentiment is as understandable as it is unsustainable. As an SG I find that I have more than enough juggling just the actual NPCs, and thinking about shield grogs and covenfolk makes for a very unconvincing display. Developing the covenant as a character simply demands so many characters that players need to take more than two each. Playing adventuring magi who depend on mundane help, likewise, requires so many characters that the SG cannot handle them all.
To some extent, one can scale down the covenant to a minimal cast, making it a wee bit more manageable, but by a large, a heavy focus on the magi changes the setting. Inevitably, if nobody plays the grogs, the magi will have to interact a lot with the mundanes, and the SG is forced to downplay the effect of the Gift lest everything becomes a struggle with those effects.
We did that and I can only recommend it. When I started my Rhine Gorge, the group was 3 mages and they were gifted 9 grogs, I had pre gen'd the grogs (to make it easier for the players new to the setting) and had done it to round off the skill gaps: they had one infernal and one faerie expert, a forge companion (with skills more oriented towards the non-verditius Co mage, to tie them to both mages), basic outdoorsmen, 1 combat grog per player, a leader/etiquette grog who could handle social interactions that the gentle gifted mage could not...
And the covenant then grew slowly and organically, by mid point of the saga they had not even doubled in size and only towards the end when they started recruiting miners and soldiers did they reach 30 people.
By keeping the cast small, the individual grogs were played often, it was not shield grogs nr 12 and 21 going to be disposable, but THE archer and THE shield grog going with the Co mage on an adventure and I find that it went a long way to making the grogs interesting and relevant.
Did you play the nine grogs as NPCs?
No, they were mostly played by the players. I kept their character sheets up to date with the yearly xp.
I did play them when I used them as plot devices: the fisherman comes to the three mages with a problem, the tame noble has a scheme and needs player help...
At my gaming table, one of the players will roll initiative, attack and defense total for a group of shield grogs protecting them, while the GM will roll for the attackers. We would typically treat a unit of shield grogs as background characters ready to intervene if something happens, but not otherwise actively involved in the story unless given an order by a companion or magi. Roleplaying the group of grogs would probably require some discussion with the gamemaster before I attempted it. It's not seen as an important story element at my tables, and I would probably be more comfortable doing it as an associate storyteller for the adventure than as a player. But it could be discussed.
Much like a sitcom, it's all about screen time and where you put the camera. You know, things can be played out explicitly, just as well as they can be abstracted. It depends where you want the story to be. Let's say your story is about a scribe falling in love with a noblewoman. You have different ways to play this out:
A: Grog player initiated. In this scenario, the scribe is a player, and the scene starts with the scribe meeting the noblewomen. It could be because of a wider scene involving the covenant, but might lead to one-on-one courtship scenes.
B: Grog Player agreed upon: Here, we still have a player who has the scribe whether as a one off or a regular. The GM and the player talked about introducing a story where he and the noblewoman are madly in love, but the parents are against it. The solo scenes are not played but agreed upon in broad strokes. The story starts when the covenant is getting involved.
C: Grog story: Much like B, except the scribe is an NPC, and so the story is fully GM initiated. The story starts at the point where the covenant is getting involved in hiding the noblewomen from her parents. At the initial stage, we have grogs playing the accomplices of the scribe helping the young lady elope with him. The companions are still oblivious. The grogs may or may not be recurring characters.
D: Companion story: The story starts at the point a companion notices a lady arriving with the scribe at the gate. The scribe is an NPC, and unless questioned in detail, probably doesn't reveal the full story yet. There might be a scene later where the lady is introduced to the covenant at dinner if dinner is shared communally between the grogs, companions and/or the magi. Otherwise, in a covenant where grogs are separated from the magi most of the time and the specialists are NPCs, the next scene might be the nobles showing up, a week later, after tracking her down. The companions handle most of the diplomacy.
E: Magi story: The diplomacy at the game did not solve the problem. The story starts as the NPC chancellor explains the situation to the magi. The GM explains some of the magi have been vaguely aware of a classy young women newly arrived at the covenant. One of the lecherous PCs might have shown interest until they were told "She's the scribe's fiance" and he decided not to mess with his scribe's life. Most magi didn't pay much attention to who comes in and out, letting their trusted officers handle mundane business so long as there are no security concerns. Once the nobles started making a fuss at the gate, when the companions realized who she is, and the situation couldn't be handled simply diplomatically (e.g. they realized they had a choice between losing the scribe or alienating the mundane lords, unless diplomacy/intrigue/magic prevails), the chancellor calls on the magi and briefs them about the problem. This is basically scene A (or B, if we include a lecherous PC scene). From there, orders are given and the story is forgotten until more consequences ensue (while the NPC chancellor does his stuff), magical schemes are drafted and the players are involved, or the chancellor reports back that a resolution has been found. At no point did anyone roleplay anyone else but their magi, and the GM pretty much evolved the plot based on the orders given, spells cast, or a dice or two rolled on behalf of the NPC companion.
F: Variant of the below, the story starts when it hits the Magi, but the players will also play the companions if they choose to be uninvolved.
This is the same storyline. None of those stories can't be handled by the gamemaster. None of those stories are fundamentally wrong, by themselves. If grogs are important characters, the story can be introduced A, B or C. If they aren't, you can attempt D or E. It depends on the stories you want to tell. I prefer the scribe to be an NPC whose name mostly comes up in the story when we decide what books to scribe, unless a story seed is introduced. I'm OK with the scribe being played at the table if someone wants him as a character and that's the consensus... but if it's my choice, I would skip playing that and bring the camera focus at a higher level.
Most of our games were run as E or F. When I was storyteller, I had some limited success doing some D, about 10-20% of the stories. My other RL primary gamemasters I've played with haven't even attempted D and mostly run E, treating companions as full NPCs but one the associate storytellers also did try some D and F. One even highly suggested that if a magi leaves the covenant, all magi should get involved or else (the opposite of what Silveroak wants). There never was an interest at my table in genuinely trying out A, B or C. Most of our bakers, nannies, shield grogs and cooks don't have a name, unless they ended up at the covenant as a result of a story (e.g. someone the covenant saved).
Or let it be done by companions. Or the magi give orders to their grog NPCs so they can interact to mundanes on their behalf. What's on screen can depend on who's in the story, and what's relevant to the plot at hand. It's not always important for someone to roleplay standing up and ordering food at the local inn, and making the reservation for a room. The knowledge that it has happened and a room was reserved can be sufficient most of the time, unless what's happening at that inn right now is important to the story.
True, not always, but often enough. Very often, that innkeeper is a source of information that has to be handled with tact and skill.
Sure, but you focus on the plot in your examples. My interest is in the characters. I want to know who these magi are, and it is when they interact with others that this comes to light. Given the Gift, the most meaningful interaction is with the grogs.
Abstracting away the grogs in the scenes leading up to combat also abstracts away the experience and anticipation and sentiment around the uncertain situation, and reduces roleplaying to rollplaying.
True, if you have enough companions, you may not strictly need the grogs, but my players tend to make such unique and weird companions that they do not fill those critical roles. (Turold may be an exception, but there is still a tendency.)
I also want to know who they are, but I prefer meaningful conversations. Talking to the innkeeper for information could be a Charm check. I'm okay with that. With a character I'll see again, and who means something to the character or the current storyline, I've had extended roleplaying. Sometimes a conversation can be 2 hours if it's an important one.
There were many soldiers involved in Troy. Yet the movie is about Achilles, various Kings and Queens, Princes and Princess. I don't recall much about the soldiers involved. You could say they can be more memorable in sitcoms, and that may be true. But the reality is they're but accessories. I don't recall the soldiers in game of thrones. I don't recall the hairdresser in Seinfeld. And if I did, the hairdresser only came on the screen because George had something funny to say to him before meeting Seinfeld. shrugs Talk to the director if you want the hairdresser to have a lot of screentime, I prefer to focus on Seinfeld, Kramer, George, Newman and Elaine. Okay, George's parents are sometimes amusing.
That's exactly what I try to avoid, because it tends to dilute the roleplaying, but note that I am a lot less worried about the interaction with the innkeeper than I am between the magus and the grog.
I am not familiar with either of the movie/TV examples of yours, but I rarely find good storytelling in blockbusters, much because of the action to character play ratio.
This is true in our current saga, too, though the opposite was true in a previous saga. But in neither case it's been a problem that prevented us from having fun.
Ultimately, I think the crucial issue is not the ruleset, but finding a consensus about what type of game the troupe wants. In the absence of such a consensus, no amount of rule-tinkering will make everyone happy; and SGs who think they can strong-arm their players should beware. In the presence of a rough consensus, I think the current rules support both types of games: ones with active magi always in the field, and ones with reclusive magi that need to be dragged out of their ivory towers. Go ArM5!
And again, what might be strong arming in a face to face group might be more signaling to attract the right players in an online game.
nods Its important to discuss expectations when there are some. I remember you did signal you didn't want magi on mundane adventures in your previous iteration in the Alps game.
But if that's the case, isn't it enough to just say it upfront? I think that if you want a game where most stories involve mostly companions and grogs, either you'll find players who are happy with that even without the need to alter the current rules, or you won't find them regardless of how you tweak the rules.
I don't know, maybe I'm missing something. But if a SG wanted a game ... uhm ... without Tremere because he dislikes them, I would much rather have him say clearly "Hey, I dislike games with Tremere magi, so if you want to play, don't make one" instead of having him say "Make whatever magus you want, but keep in mind that Tremere magi in this game automatically suffer the Flaws Unimaginative Learner, Social Handicap and Cursed without any compensation due to some ... uh ... malevolent supernatural influence!". Because in the latter case I might be tempted to play a Tremere out of sheer curiosity. Does that make sense?
It has been my experience that if I ask for mundane adventures to feature grogs and companions there will inevitably be players who will indicate tha they understand and are fine with that and then still decide they can justify an exception in every single adventure for why their magus should come along.
Give em a warning, then give them a curse. You are the SG.
I'm not suggesting "Rocks fall and then you die", just a casual curse.