I'm dithering with the idea of running another ARS MAGICA game and it occurs to me to try to put forward some ideas to my players that don't focus on the covenant. There will BE covenants in my version of Mythic Europe but my players wouldn't be focussed on being members of one, on ensuring their covenant prospers and them along with it. Instead I thought I might try putting something like this to them:
You are all members of House Ex Miscellania, the largest and most diverse House in the Order. You have been summoned to Cad Gedu, the headquarters of the House in the Welsh Moutains, by the newly appointed Primus of the House. He has chosen each of you (none of you are clear why you were specifically chosen) to act as his persona agents in solving problems, enforcing discipline under the House Quaesitor or just finding out things he wants to know. If there's a dispute between the various factions of the House, reports of a previously unknown magical tradition that might be recruited into the Order or rumours of diabolism you're the ones he's going to send out to see what's what and lay down the law. You are young for the responsibility but then so is he.
Will that work? Are there problems in that sort of setup? What other sorts of similar things might be available in Mythic Europe?
Well, as I read your pitch, the characters still have a covenant, Cad Gadu, as a base of operations. It will give them a place to rest, research, study, etc. However, the focus of the saga won't be on developing or sustaining the covenant but rather on matters of House politics, in so far as Ex Misc has politics. I think it sounds like a great idea!
Not focusing on the covenant is fine for ANY saga. Why tie them to a single house, however? And why would these young magi obey their primus on this?
Another concern is that the realities of the saga will force you to "mind" the covenant. The players will want to know what books they can get from their library, they'll want raw vis, and so on. So you will probably need to devote some time to handling this. One avenue that you can explore is having the House provide the players with the resources, so getting them won't be a covenant-matter at all.
If you are not tied to House Ex Misc, the House I see best working in these capacities is House Mercere. It has vast access to raw vis, mundane goods, and very often books too, that it can send to the PCs regardless of their covenant(s). And it has Order-wide interests that will allow it to recruit magi from different Houses, covenants, and even tribunals to serve in this new Aid To The House capacity. Of course, House Bonisagus and Guernicus can also serve well, as can Rhine Gilds or Mystery Cults or a Jerbiton League...
Well, they're tied to one House because I can't see any existing authority that stretches across all the Houses. Except for the Quaesitores of course and that's another possibility for focussing the campaign.
And they obey the Primus because it's the Primus who gave them the authority and the Primus who can take it away again. If you read the Ex Misc writeup there are reasons to think that the new Primus might have some secrets of his own... but we can play the Saga straight for a while and see where it goes.
Now, as to the fact that I'll have to run the Covenant, fine. I'm proposing this idea because the last time we tried AM the players didn't want to run the covenant, had no idea how to approach the problem and got bored with the prospect very easily. I mght do a super detailed model of Cad Gedu as COVENANTS allows me to, or I might (given it is a fairly weird place with a lot of history about it) just hand wave things and do my best to keep things consistent.
I don't think Mercere is going to cut it: there would of necessity be an element of economic management in a Mercere based game that would go against the reasons for doing it this way in the first place.
I'm still interested in learning of organisatiosn, positions and causes that might give me a focus on enough interesting stuff to keep a Saga going. I've got all the books but my memory isn't as good as it was.
Seems great to me. The idea of the covenant is largely to give the magi characters something common to care about. Your setup provides that.
There are plenty of other options for similar "mission" orientated sagas. For example, a Tremere Vexillation, a Rhine Gild, a Bjornaer Sept, any Mystery Cult (either a House or a non-House cult), or a group of Seekers, might all work too.
Something to bear in mind though, is that a covenant based saga helps limit the geographic area and the number of NPCs you need to think about. For a normal covenant saga, you normally only really need to think in detail about one local bishop, a couple of major nobles, a few nearby villages, one or two major towns/cities, one faerie forest, etc. In a covenant saga, the PCs interact with the same local NPCs in multiple stories.
However, the setup you have described will probably involve the characters running around a much larger geographic area, perhaps even all of Mythic Europe. So, as storyguide you might have to do a bit more work thinking about where the PCs are going, and who might live there. Which isn't a problem; it's just more work. Perhaps, you should think about ways to limit the geographic area, at least initially. Maybe only give the PCs "jurisdiction" over a particular sub-region within a Tribunal, or something.
I would argue that technically these magi are part of a covenant - attached ot Cad Gadu.
Cutting right back the various trappings, a covenant is a charter/agreement between magi to share stuff. It also provides a certain level of legal 'protection' - prevents people pointing and shouting vagrant, etc. Even so, the group are probably going to raise some ire when they cross tribunal boundaries - especially if they're picking up vis or other resources along the way.
This 'technically a covenant' standpoint could result in some interesting political stories, between people wanting them to be treated as a covenant and people wanting them to be treated as individuals.
On a tangent...
I've been considering running a game where the magi are a subset of a much larger Autumn covenant. The library and resources they have (as per covenant creation) represents the slice they have access to, and the magi themselves don't have to worry about the minutiae of running/maintaining the covenant because they're part of a bigger one. The result is very similar to what you're aiming for, though instead of 'not in a covenant' it becomes 'in an autumn covenant of great power.' The trade-off for this is, of course, the magi get given orders they have to obey.
Cad Gadu could work. So could Coeris, Magvillus or Fengheld.
You can still use the covenant game system to model this sort of saga. The various hooks you choose represent the missions the primus sets you on and the position that status as troubleshooters puts you in. The boons and build points the resources he makes available to the characters.
As said by you (Michael Cule), having the primus having a hidden agenda of his own can be really nice. They can slowly see how diverse and aparently unrelated missions come together as a whole when tied together. And they might not like what it implies. Something like rising Davnalleus again to power or whipping out house bonisagus and the knowledge of Parma out of the House.... Or destroying house ex miscellanea from within along with the other non roman houses in a new civil war. Lots of possibilities here Nice. Obviously the realities of the saga will screw thatpotential) plan (happened to me quite commonly) but it is always a nice twist.