What are the consequences for not having a written covenant charter?
My PCs have been operating as a Spring Covenant for 3 years of game time. In that time they have: claimed some land in the hills of Corsica; begun building a tower; established amicable relations with the local fae; established favorable relations with the local Doge (of House Visconti of Pisa); established trade of books and other resources with another Spring Covenant on an island near Crete; and attended a Special Convocation at Durenmar in which they successfully beat out a rival Sicilian covenant in a Seeker Question contest, earning the temporary residence at their covenant of a (disgraced and former) Archmagus Bonisagi who is doing research on ley lines. Quite productive for a Spring Covenant in just three years!
What they have NOT done is sign a Covenant Charter. I even gave them a little HINT that they need to get this done by having the visiting Archmagus Bonisagi DRAFT one for them to customize and revise. They sent a couple of email suggestions, but they petered out. How can I light a fire under these PCs to get their Covenant Charter finalized and signed? Do I even need to do so? Are there any real consequences for not signing one?
The Grand Tribunal is coming up in five years (1228 A.D.) and, I fear, that at this rate, they won't have their charter signed even by that time. What happens if they show up at Grand Tribunal without a signed charter, after having operated as a covenant for 8 years? Anything? Is this a non-issue?
A (Tremere) duellist or two could ruin their day, couldn't they? Certamen challenges for this, that and everything. Heck even just a challenge for covenant leadership, after which they ram through a charter that disenfranchises the PCs.
I guess there are carrot and stick approaches. House Guernicus usually witnesses the charter, and the charter is expected as part of a covenant. There might be an official ruling somewhere that a covenant is, in fact, defined as "a group of magi with a written charter." So they would not be a covenant at all, in the eyes of Tribunal.
As much as we storyguides are trained to expect a charter, you might try to yield to the popular will and say something like, "OK, your covenant cannot be recognized without a charter, but no one wants to write it. I don't blame you. It's a pain in the ass. So let's just say that you DID write it, and we'll leave it vague for now. We can fill in the details as we go, and either whatever we decide was already/has always been written down in the charter, or we're adding things to it."
Think of this as canon in, for example, shows like Star Trek. No one knew what the Prime Directive was until suddenly someone in the show started to talk about it. And so it is with literally every regulation ever cited in every Star Trek movie. Did someone go and write the entire rules and regulations for Star Fleet? No, they left it flexible until the effort of writing something down became in service to a story. If your charter is ambiguous for now, then you can make it as good or as bad as you like, in future episodes. A PC might decide that the charter promises everyone X amounts of vis every year, for example, or that you can't keep a book for longer than a year. "Wait, that's in the charter?" a player says. And you sit back in your GM chair and say, "It is now. Guess you guys better deal with that."
Corsica is in the Rome Tribunal, which doesn't have an official RAW tribunal policy (or even one on the project redcap site as of yet), but I have trouble seeing a tribunal with the level of divine and mundane encroachment that Rome has not having rules regarding officially establishing a covenant, and I would expect that without a charter they would not be recognized as a covenant. Technically a magus shouldn't need a covenant to vote, but it would also mean that any covenant property would not be recognized as such by the tribunal, and individual mages may be accused of interfering with mundanes if they are claiming land that does not support a recognized covenant.
Until they register their covenant, their covenant would not exist legally. It couldn't claim vis sources or land, not officially anyway. You can't register ownership of anything if your covenant isn't recognized.
Have a magus come in and register one of their vis sources on behalf of another (recognized) covenant. Then, when they make a stink about the vis source at Tribunal, have them lose it because the other people followed the rules and they didn't.
Well now I'm really torn. Doctorcomics's ret-con approach sounds the most reasonable, but jason72's idea of certámen challenges by antagonistic magi, silveroak's idea of charges of interfering with mundanes, and trogdor's AWESOME idea of foreign magi registering their vis sources are much more FUN.
Fun wins over reason.
Thanks, you guys. Keep the evil ideas coming. The PCs do, after all, have a rival covenant per their covenant stats, so, more ideas to exploit their lack of charter to make their lives miserable are welcome!
Another thing to keep in mind is that, without Charter and thus legal Covenant, they count as peripathetic magi rather than settled ones, and thus own seasons of service to the Tribunal. The rules change from tribunal to tribunal, but being a covenant-less mage is not something easy within the Order. Add in the rival covenant, and they could easily be declared tresspassers in their own home. In fact, they may have limited voting rights to fight against it!
In the foreseeable future, a peripheral code for the ArM5 Roman Tribunal won't just suddenly be published and bite you in the back. You have to make that up, and then stick to it.
If your players don't get around writing their own covenant charter, but rather would have their magi characters agree upon a reasonable one: there always is the one of Triamore: the Covenant at Lucien's Folly p.34f (atlas-games.com/product_tables/AG0264.php ). Just rename the covenant, strike out the paragraph of commitment to wisdom in service of the world, and have it signed. Problem solved. Continue with stuff that interests your players.
In many Tribunals, the covenant does not exist until its charter is notarized by a quaesitor. It may be that a covenant simply cannot attend the Roman Tribunal, will not be recognized, until they have presented their signed and notarized charter to the Praeco and Chief Quaesitor. Depending on the players, this could be very important; being unrecognized may have great difficulty in securing vis source rights, having legal cases presented for tribunal, and getting much done officially.
That may not be the case, though - in the previous version of the Roman Tribunal, the established covenants simply did not allow new covenants without a very good reason, and getting recognized was extremely difficult. I forget the specifics. In this version, a new covenant without recognition has little legal standing in terms of relations with other covenants. Ignore this if it does not suit you.
You saga may be different, of course, but generally a covenant would not go to the Grand Tribunal (at Durenmar, in the Rhine Tribunal, held every 33 years); mages are sent from their local Tribunal as individual representatives. Perhaps you mean the Roman Tribunal?
Ooohhhhh...Silberluchs...we're on to something here. Could you give me more information about this? How many seasons of service per year are owed? Who owes it, each one of the magi owes seasons of service to the Tribunal? To whom do they report, the Praeco of the Tribunal? What sort of service, anything the Praeco needs?
Well, I was thinking that members of every Covenant in the Order (not necessarily every magus in each Covenant, but at least one magus and as many as all of the magi of a Covenant) were invited to come to the Grand Tribunal every 33 years. Is that not so? I always imagined the Grand Tribunal to be like GenCon: all magi (gamers) are invited, not all can make it, but most would like to go if they could, and do go if they can. Is this not a good analogy?
From the main rulebook for Ars Magica, 5th edition, page 14 "Three representatives are sent from each of the regional Tribunals (see below), and the Primi of all Houses also attend."
So with only 3 magi per Tribunal, most Grand Tribunals your covenant won't send anyone, and when they do it will be one member. How your Tribunal selects its three representatives is no doubt up for influence, and you can always ask a representative to bring a matter up for discussion, but it's not guaranteed.
Now regular regional Tribunals, anyone who's registered with the redcaps as living in that Tribunal can turn up and vote.
I'm actually using the 4th edition rulebook (I know, I know...I'm a stubborn dinosaur), so I didn't know they added that into 5th edition Core Rulebook. It's good to know the 5th edition canon, I appreciate it.
In the old 4th edition days, we used to run the Grand Tribunal like a big gaming con, and I related to that and kind of liked it -- a chance for all the magi of the Order of Hermes to geek out about magic in one, big, happy communal bunch. I'll probably stick to doing it that way, since I think the players dig the idea of roleplaying a "gaming con"; I think we all find the analogy humorous.
You guys are waaay overthinking this, I think. The only charter that is flat-out required in the greater Order is the notification to the Redcaps that a magus lives here and swears to provide hospitality to any travelling member of the Order for three days. Any other requirements are at the Tribunal's discretion. (In Provence, the above is it. In the Rhine, you need unanimous approval of all existing covenants, so you'd better have a charter.)
The SG has to decide, and then inform his players, whether the Tribunal will accept their Covenant without a charter (as Rome lacks a Tribunal book). If they're not accepted as a covenant, what rights do they lose? If they are accepted as a covenant, then the issue before them is that they still don't have anything defining who is, and importantly, who is not a part of the covenant. If a cabal of magi Tytalus that outnumber the players come in, they may be able to turf the PCs out (though if one PC claims to be owner of this here castle, that's harder to defend - do the other magi trust the guy who officially owns the castle?).
@Silberluchs: Where do you get this? Magi without a covenant are not necessarily peripatetic - usually they're considered eremites. They're mostly left alone unless they're sitting on someone's resources.
For Provence, I'd say you can use that... but remember that your charter is valued as peripheric code... you'd better sure before you create such a gasping charter which would be open to any tytalus playing fool with your covenant.
Many people are suggesting terrible things that can happen to the magi because they don't have a charter. But the problem isn't that the magi don't want a charter, it's that the players have no interest in writing it.
It may seem "fun" to make the lives of the magi hell over this, but you might want to have a conversation with the players. Are they interested in this kind of conflict at all? Or do they just see it as "the GM is dicking with us because we refuse to do the homework assignment he's given us." Many players simply aren't into the book-keeping side of Ars Magica. Do you want to penalize them for that? If the players are in for this, go for it. Conflict is the heart of stories. But before you do, look at your group from the point of view of the players and ask, "How are THEY going to see this?"
Offer some carrots. Find a player, offer him something cool (a book of rare lab texts, a minor enchanted item, nothing that will break the campaign) if he drafts the charter, using the format your NPC already provided.
Excluding yourself from bookkeeping excludes you from a substantial majority of what Ars Magica offers, methinks. Even the magic system is pretty bookkeeper-ish.
However, the rest of that post stands. You want to, if at all possible, make it more "carrot and stick" or better yet "carrot and apple" (each option leads to a different but still fun outcome) rather than "stick and more stick." If the players' options are "suffer through extremely boring legalese homework" and "be punished for not doing extremely boring legalese homework" there's going to be a lot more "man, I can't wait until class is over" than "man, what a fun experience!" Unless, of course, the punishment is something they find fun, at which point the university analogy falls apart (or things just became quite scandalous).
As a side-note, while Ars Magica is fairly entrenched in its setting, there's nothing wrong with shifting around some setting elements for the sake of fun. I, too, run the Grand Tribunal as a massive gathering, despite having made that decision while fully aware of what the Grand Tribunal normally represents. (For what it's worth, the "three representatives per Tribunal plus Primi of the Houses" meeting still happens, it's just a private event during the larger procession.) It just works better for me and my players, and that's a perfectly fine decision to make about just about anything in your game.
Doctorcomics is absolutely right. I'm not dicking the players for not wanting to do homework. Believe me, this group loves doing homeworky stuff, but so far, they're only doing homeworky stuff that benefits their own individual character. I'm trying to impress upon them that a Spring Covenant doesn't survive to Summer if they don't tend to their Covenant's needs.
I WROTE the charter FOR them because they weren't getting down to business on that front, but now they're squabbling over terms based on selfish desires and hemming and hawing and not making decisions. So there is a morality play here, but it's about punishing the PCs for being selfish and not working together as a team, not punishing the players for not wanting to do the homeworky stuff of Ars Magica.
Our next session is Sunday. It's my intention to present them with the charter as it stands now, and if they still refuse to agree to its terms and sign it, I'm going to start launching the above-suggested consequences at them one by one.