New Storyguide Advice

A friend of mine is moving, and unloaded a metric load of Ars Magica books into my lap (not quite complete, but a damn lot of them). I and my roommate are highly interested in playing, and can easily get a couple more people into it. The roommate and I are the type to peruse RPGs, so the comparative complexity and open format isn't intimidating; and I'd be the Storyguide essentially 100% of the time. The other players aren't going to be quite as gung-ho, so dumping them into the sea of advanced options would be a bad idea. We'll likely meet about twice a month, and I have regular online contact; but outside of the roommate, none are the type to talk to each other between games.

Starting Tribunal - The players are too new and uncertain to declare the type of saga they want, so I'll make the tribunal/covenant for them (let them read the core book to shove in any boon/hook that actually catches their attention). So, the question is this; which Tribunals should I stick them in out of the choices of Rhine, Transylvania, Theban, & Normandy (the only Tribunal books I have)? Except for one player, they're not the type to read the supplemental books, but I personally love internal consistency and appreciate the books' information/compilation for saga use.

Starting Covenant - For ease of transition and excuse for a bunch of magi fresh out of Gauntlet, I was going to have them move into a Winter covenant using ~800BP. There will be two or three older magi (or just one eccentric archmagus) who, in a comparative manic fit, acquiesced to new blood to manage the neglected estate. I personally enjoyed reading the Covenants book, and will likely stat up most of it ahead of time (done similar with other campaigns as a GM). Any advice for what their library should look like?

Beginning Saga - I'm not sure whether to have the group start off with character creation for their new magi (companions later), play a fistful of pre-made grogs/covenfolk trying to prepare the covenant for the new arrivals next season, or something different.[hr][/hr]
[center]Starting Scene[/center]
Location: Ruins of Adresina

Elder Magi: Introverts, journeymen due to lack of political ambition. They will let the PCs joins as full members right off the bat, but will require the charter to declare them as Master magi within the covenant (two votes, auto-seniority within the covenant, etc). They will usually abstain their votes, not being interested in most matters. Their UnGifted autocrat will also have a voting sigil for council meetings. The autocrat is an overworked elder who deals with the covenfolk, manages the financial records and covenant library, and was likely the main impetus in convincing the two magi to bring in new blood so the covenant gets out of Winter (long-term thinker). In play, will be expies of Statler and Waldorf.* [u]Sanagos of Jerbiton[/u] - Wishes to study math, loves his tractatus from Fibonnacci. Not interested in arithmetic magic, but raw math itself, but will occasionally do some magic research.

  • [u]Prokui of Orbus Tremere[/u] - Fell in love with a noble who claimed to be from the Moon, is now driven to research the Breakthrough(s) necessary to go there, and has only recently felt confident enough to begin proper Original Research.
    Player Magi: An updating progress as I get their characters* Disrun von Hardenberg of Criamon fili Marcus[list][]Lynn - Kirin and refugee of the Mongol Horde
    :m][]Viktor Reinhardt Krueger of Merinita[/:m][][strike]Gotvinus of Guernicus[/strike] [strike]Miruna the Hooded Crow[/strike] - Gossip and consummate matchmaker
    [/:m][]Joseph Miller of Bjornaer* Count Adalbrecht Werahamun Sylvester von Tutankhamun - Noble cat of the Black Lineage
    [/:m][]Tim of Bonisagus* Owlowiscious - Exceptionally morbid owl
    [/:m][]Alfonso (Companion)[/:m][][strike]Karl of Verditius[/strike][/:m][]Ehren (Companion)[/:m][/list:u]Vis Sources: Only three will be remembered, and that's after checking the covenant rolls; the elder magi having gone at least 7 years not bothering to harvest the vis, and sold the last of their vis stock . Their combined output is about 20 pawns per year (5 player magi, the 2 elder aren't going to try to claim any for now) The Cave of Magic (6 Vim per year)
  • Apples of Hesperidae (6 Creo per year)
  • Mallorn Dandelions (4 Muto, 4 Corpus, per year)
  • Linden Copse (3 Herbam per year)
    Income: Typical (stagnant)

Library: Many have been sold, destroyed from improper maintenance, or pulled and kept in their sancta.* All of the lab texts in Roamer's Book in separate books, representing the sum of the troupe's graduation presents and such. Valued at 23BP in cost, valuating such spells at 1BP per 15 levels for lab texts

  • Roots - L7/Q21 for Rego, Corpus, & Terram
  • Imaginem Summae L20/Q10
  • Vim Summae L9/Q19
  • Ability Summae - Magic Theory L4/Q15, Dominion Lore L6/Q15, Faerie Lore L4/Q11, Finesse L5/Q10
    Enchanted Items: A scrying mirror (InIm 25) similar to the one from Beauty and the Beast.

Hooks* Superiors (Major) - The two anti-social elder magi who have the autocrat at least partially in their pocket and having set themselves up for disproportionate power within the covenant.

  • Weak Aura (Minor) - As per the Rhine Tribunal's information, the starting Aura is rated at 2.
    Boons* Edifice (Minor) - Taken twice, representing the Temple & Basilica
  • Unknown Resources (Minor) - Taken twice. Thinking of part of the BP for it to be a forgotten vault with a very Warped book with both Lab Text and advanced Mastery summae for said spell within it.

I'll come up with a list for the covenfolk later and add them to this post; but this is the current rough draft for the covenant that the party will be walking into (roughly 517BP). Any thoughts as to whether this is poorly done, overly weak, or some other flaw that I need to consider for this setup?
Anything else I should be asking?

The starting Tribunal should be based on the general tone you want to set for the saga in terms of available resources and how strongly the Order can/will enforce the Code on the player covenant. Decide the following: how rich and abundant the mundane neighbors of the covenant are; how much you want Hermetic politics to be a theme in stories; how high- or low-fantasy a game you'd like to run; and whether or not the covenant itself will have lots of mundane wealth and/or vis. Those considerations will help us help you to pick a Tribunal, and thinking about that might give you some ideas about what the covenant itself is like.

I personally highly recommend three strange elder magi to one eccentric archimagus. However, while in other respects Winter covenants are pretty great places for sagas, they can be a bit harder for SGs who have never been players, because although you can probably wing it if they never do anything except issue orders and shoo the player magi away, if your old magi are going to be at all prominent, you'll have to design them, and making elder magi when you haven't seen a magus advancing in practice is almost always problematic.

Their library... It's a Winter covenant, right? I'd try to make use of the Hidden Resources Boon if it's one of those covenants with run-down buildings nobody goes into and stuff. As for contents, a mix of Lab Texts for spells that are always useful (level 10 or so Wizard's Communion is a common choice), a few Art tracti (I recommend Quality in the 8-10 range), two or three good Art summae (Quality 6-8, pick Level based on how quickly you want players to reach certain levels), and definitely several enchanted items that the old magi made to deal with things so they don't have to go out themselves.

In no particular order, some preemptive decisions I will make barring the players showing explicit favor/disfavor for something...* Covenant has average-to-low mundane wealth, low vis with a rich-yet-forgotten source hidden somewhere on covenant property

  • Muggle neighbors are poor, but abundant, with at least one border to territory largely empty of muggles (faerie wood, covenant that REALLY likes its privacy from the mundane, etc)
  • Hermetic politics are largely relegated to official events, with the players being capable of phoning it in to avoid getting entangled; there's at least one fairly social covenant nearby they can get involved with for politics, but circumstances are such that they need to initiate contact. There will be some background noise, the equivalent of minor gossip from a Redcap, to occasionally remind them that they exist, but nothing pushy if they're not interested.
  • The way I've been reading the book, ArM5's baseline seems to be fairly high-magic if you actually pay attention, just very detailed to remind the reader that non-covenfolk mundanes tend to only know of it on the grapevine. That's the kind of magic-level I want to aim for, with an additional caveat of wanting to avoid interaction with the Divine

I am aware of that problem. The current plan to get around that is to look at some of the Sagas players have posted online and find appropriate characters, then adjust their stats accordingly for the setting (switch out a Lore, name, redirect a personality trait, etc).

Quite simply, what location most interests you as far as the stories that those Tribunal books have suggested? That needs to be your primary determinant to setting up a covenant, because you are the glue in this scenario. If you aren't interested in the location, your desire to tell stories in that location will wane. Going a step further, are you interested in researching any of these areas to build a more vibrant local scene for the covenant?

So, fairly high-fantasy but not significantly higher than the base assumption (which, as you mention, is pretty high), not a lot of physical resources to take advantage of, pretty low-vis, specifically a reason for less Divine influence, and existent but low-key politics? Okay...

I'll list all the pros and cons of the Tribunals that you have books for, in terms of your own personal desires, and hopefully that will help you make a decision.

Pros: Perfect amount of fantasy for what you're looking for, definitely lots of mundane neighbors who are only a little richer than you're probably desiring
Cons: Probably a good deal more political and competitive than you're wanting, as the domus magna of House Bonisagus is there, which has the greatest library in the Order, meaning there's going to be quite a lot of Hermetic activity nearby, and the nearby mundanes are looking to expand into the covenant's territory and take it for themselves, though this does have the advantage of opening up stories where you interact with and possibly help the creatures of the Rhine. Much higher vis than you seem to hope for, and a good deal of Crusader influence, so it'll be a bit weird to neglect Divine interaction

Pros: Once again a really great amount of fantasy, though a bit lower, and if you tuck yourself away well enough you can get most of your religious exposure from the Greek influence, so you'll interact more with Greek Gods and Titans. Pretty low-vis, and all the mundane folk are too busy warring with one another to fill the power vacuum left by Constantinople's fall to be terribly rich or care too much about the covenant. There are Hermetic magi who are also politicians in the area, but by and large they aren't Hermetic politicians, they're Jerbiton magi engaging in mundane politics. There is some Hermetic influence, though, but not too much, which I believe is what you were hoping for
Cons: The biggest con here is how much you'll have to stretch your own suspension of disbelief, because once again the Divine doesn't want to leave anybody alone, and there are constant competitions between all the Realms for relevance among the mundane populace. The Faerie Greek Gods are manipulating things to increase their own relevance, the Magic Greek Titans are trying to gain relevance, the Divine is buffering itself and trying to expand, and the Infernal is being the Infernal. You will have trouble avoiding the Divine here.

Pros: A little high-fantasy, but it's in the right range. Lots of mundane neighbors.
Cons: Ah! Get the politics away from me! Seriously, this is almost the Greater Alps in how much politics are thrown on you. Also, it's generally high-resource. There's a lot of mundane wealth being thrown around by everybody and it's pretty high-vis. There's also just a little too much going on in this Tribunal in general.

Pros: This is a pretty good one. Lower-fantasy, but not so much it hurts. Very lenient peripheral rulings on mundane interaction, though this might breed wealth on its own as the characters won't be punished too much if at all for even over-the-top things like raiding mundanes, but if that isn't a problem a lot of stories benefit from the increase in allowed interaction. Your "regular social event that they don't have to get pushed into going to" is supplied for you in the form of the magical tournaments that happen fairly often in the area. Average amounts of vis and assumed wealth, so if they have a good in-character reason to be in such a place then just being in certain places with worse soil and such can put them on the low end of resources. Best part is, the Divine isn't much of an issue here, and can actually be ignored as long as the covenant isn't dumb about it (like, if you charge into a major Germanic city, you'll just have to deal with hitting a Divine aura)
Cons: Normandy has rich, powerful mundane kingdoms moving and shaking around. Also, the Hermetic magi there have an intentionally romanticized culture, with a big focus on things such as chivalry and poetic language and honor, meaning it's not really thematically appropriate with your intention to have a covenant of reclusive, unfriendly old magi trying to get young blood to do all that hard work of revitalizing the covenant for them.

Hope this helps you make a decision. I personally recommend either the Rhine or Thebes with careful covenant placement to dodge Divine influence.

I'd particularly recommend the Rhine there, just because Thebes is a rather nonstandard Tribunal. Possibly somewhere in the pagan backwaters of the Rhine in an area not currently under Crusade or tightly involved in Durenmar's political business.

In fact, the particular political structure of the Rhine would work to encourage the PCs to avoid greater Hermetic politics until you and they are ready, because it's much harder to break into the system when Tribunal is completely dominated by the elder magi and their ghost votes and the PCs don't even have the right to certamen for what they want. Much easier for the magi to focus on interaction with Magic and Faerie and mundane, and on keeping their interaction low-key to avoid the Quaesitores. Fortunately, you can give them as much or as little mercy on the latter score as they deserve, because the Quaesitores in the Rhine are chronically underworked and unappreciated.

Maybe they're just corrupt.

A few tweaks, based on my own understanding:

  • The Theban tribunal is actually pretty high vis (despite what HoH:MC says in the Bind Magical Creatures section of the Verditius chapter of Houses of Hermes: Mystery Cults - the main Theban book makes it clear it's plentiful).
  • I wouldn't have said the Transylvanian tribunal has loads of politics, as such. In many ways, it has much less politics than other tribunals. What it will have, however, is people you have specific obligations to (which may well extend to flat out giving you orders, especially for Tremere PCs). To my mind, this is different from politics in that it's already clearly defined what the position is, rather than something the PCs are constantly having to deal and negotiate for. Depending on your point of view, this can either be a problem or a way to move your senior NPCs out of the covenant. Judging by what you were saying about the PCs being the ones to initiate contact, probably still not what you're looking for, though.
  • The Normany tribunal being low divine interaction - I don't think there is much in the way of major divine politics going on, but divine auras are going to be problem - most of the tribunal is heavily populated, which means a lot of it is going to be covered in at least a weak aura. There are also lots of monasteries and pilgrimage routes.

That's an option too. But I'd steer clear of it for a low-politics game. Corrupt cops get on everyone's case if they're not getting the taste, and the OP definitely sounds like he doesn't want his saga to be about exploring the corruption of the Rhine Tribunal.

Good corrections! My memory must have defaulted to something mentioned in Houses of Hermes.

I'd still say that Transylvania is extremely political, because any time a political event that concerns House Tremere happens anywhere in the friggin' Order, the entire Tribunal goes into either scheming mode or overdrive to fix the thing concerning them. I mean, Tremere is the second most political House in the Order right after Trianoma Bonisagi, and there are a lot more Tremere if I recall correctly, all of whom have something to contribute to the giant politics lean. Being in the Tribunal dominated by them has been a political nightmare, in my own games at any rate.

Really, if he weren't so limited in Tribunals, I'd recommend Levant in a heartbeat, but we're working with what we've got, so... I still recommend either Rhine or Thebes.

Yes, if I weren't limited in Tribunal books, I'd have others for option.

Spoke to a couple of the players, and it looks like we'll be in the Rhine Tribunal. They don't know enough to make more solid decisions, so I'll make that. From what the book tells me, the Lower Lorraine, near Cambrai, would be ideal (unless I'm missing something?); relatively isolated from other covenants except for Triamore, near the border to Normandy such that if they really wanted they could join in the Tournament, and such.

And now is the decision for the elder magi in the covenant; one to three (someone strongly suggested 3 over 1, any specific reason?), introverted, eccentric, and accepted the new members so they don't have to deal with the responsibility as much. I can imagine them having amended the charter to account for this goal. I'm not sure what kind of revisions/caveats they would include though.

The first session (in a month or so from now) is still up for debate. I like either idea I've had of the first session being either character building (magi only) or a session with pre-made covenfolk grogs prepping the place for the new arrivals. Any suggestions there?

I recommended three over one for a few reasons. Three magi provides more variety than one; a variety of goals, a variety of stories you can tie the characters into through them, and a greater variety of interesting things they've done in terms of created magic items and Hermetic reputations. Plus, relevantly, three old but not ancient magi makes more sense in the context of a covenant; after all, you can't charter a covenant with a single magus, and if the rest of his sodales had died of age or Final Twilight, he'd almost certainly be too ancient to remain in the saga for any significant amount of time.

As for a first session... That depends. In my personal experience, the first characters you build shouldn't (necessarily) be magi, but the first ones you play should be so that you're getting an accurate feel for how the game works.

My only thought - understand that build points for Covenents are, well, cheap. They represent only the general guideline for what you want the covenant to look like at day 0 of the campaign. Magi are VERY good at rejecting the reality around them (either social, political or physical), and replacing it with their own.

Boons and Hooks are there only to get the campaign started - it may very well veer off wildly in another direction, once (say) the Rego Terram specialist decides that this paltry fortress they live in is much too small, and spends a season or two deciding to build the largest, self-sustaining castle in all of Mythic Europe. Or someone else decides that the library is much too small, spends a few season harvesting vis, and splurges it all in the book trade.

Of course, if those are the stories you built into the covenant (poor defenses, or no points in the library), then that's no problem - those are the kind of stories you WANTED to tell. But if they weren't specifically hooks, it's still not a problem: they're functionally boons now, so you may as well work them into the story of your Covenent.

So, really - if you've been a GM before you probably know this, but it bears repeating - just roll with what your PC's do, and tell stories based on that.

Oh - and if you're looking for a good place to start a covenant library, here's the Book of Roaming: [url]] - basically the list of "every spell a starting covenant should have, as roughly determined by us, the forum-goers".

Just got a very rough outline for one of the players, they're going to be all about the fae. From what I know of her, I'm going to have a player that will want to have at least some stories involve their activities. Andresina also seems like an open area that's relatively isolated from the covenants, got some magical history, very near a principal forest for the fae, and the nearby town of Toul is of mediocre strength; anything I'm missing out for goals here?

EDIT: One of my players has brought up potential concern with having the first session be character creation. All of the players are used to games like D&D, and at least one player worries about option paralysis with character creation. Is there any advice for introducing everyone more readily? I keep thinking an introductory session with pre-mades before creation would help (maybe not grogs, but something with magic?), but I don't know if this would create its own problems...

About "option paralysis", there are several actions you can take to smooth that. They involve a bit more work from your side, but remain very doable. And I tried all of them with good success.

First thing, ask them ahead of time what kind of magus they would like to play.
Then two options for you:

  1. you make skeleton character: assign characteristic, select one major virtue, two minor, same with flaws. Pick up skills, assign level but leave 30 xp for customisation. Same with Arts and spells.
  2. you pick up from internet, magi of Hermes and other books fully premade magus and hand them to play.

Then you made it clear to your players that they are not final characters: they will be able to change virtues, flaws, spells arts - everything. For the coming 4-5 sessions they can swap, replace and tweak.
As the learn the system, get more into their PC, they will make their final choice.

What is very important is that they come up at the PC creation session with already concept of magus. Then you guide them through the House selection, virtues/flaw selection and finally arts and spells.
As long as you let them tweak their character over the next sessions, they should be fine.

For those you are intimidate by the spell system, let them take "Non-spontaneous magic" flaw. It is a crippling flaw for somebody who knows how to use the system, but I had a player who selected it specifically because he did not want to have to deal with all that. On contrary, stay away from the more "intensive " virtue: let those one to players who can figure out the system otherwise the game will lag when you will have to take over the math to determine spell level, effect, penetration and what not.

Ezechiel, do you mean taking weak and difficult spontaneous magic which leave you unable to cast spontaneous spells?

Spontaneous magic is a bit of a honey trap. It looks good, but it is hard to use unless you are proficient in a narrow field and/or have an encyclopedic knowledge of the guidelines and know what is within your character's reach.

Yes. I did not have the rulebook with me. Thanks for clarifying.

I found some information and looked at the map for locations for the custom covenant to be installed for the players to move into. As I consider you guys more versed in the historical and metagame lore than I, I would highly appreciate any advice for which location to use.* Swan Castle

  • Andresina
  • Luneburg Heath
  • Pomeranian Forest
  • Brunn
  • Eifel Mountains
  • Sanctuary of Hercules
  • Giant's Castle

Not per source material. I happened to be reading about this last night. The Rhine quaesitores are few (there are three of them noted that I recall), locally concentrated, and pressed. One is very old and spread thin, the second is overzealous, the third very young, socially junior, and politically pocketed.

YSMV, of course.

If you're looking to run a saga with strong fae involvement of a kind that most players will find familiar, a very low divine/infernal influence and a fair amount of isolation from both mundanes and hermetic politics, I'd suggest checking out the Hibernian tribunal.

Rhine makes a good fallback, but Hibernian sounds like it covers pretty much everything you want.