Ars Magica is a game where our most important character is the magi, we all know this, but on occasion some of us like to play as non-hermetic magi for a change, whether as a mythic companion redcap, or a magus of House Ex-Miscellania using the Gifted Companion rules, or taking one of the traditions available in the Hedge Magic book. Unfortunately, if you do so you are heavily penalized, not just with weaker overall magic, but with substantially less experience available during character creation.
All characters start with 120 experience from Early Childhood, at that point all are equal, but from there the choices begin to have a major impact. Leaving aside a voluntary choice by the player to have a later apprenticeship than necessary the answers break down to:
- Hermetic Magi. Apprenticeship grants 360xp in abilities arts and spells, so 480xp by age 20, and the lovely 30xp per year afterwards giving you 780xp by age 30.
- Redcaps. Basic redcap has an apprenticeship worth 350xp for the cost of a major virtue so 470xp by age 20, and their default later learning is using average wealth so 620xp by age 30, although you could have chosen the Lone Redcap virtue to allow the Wealthy virtue to simulate less dedication to your duty and so have a more experienced character for a later starting age, but you lose many of the bonuses available with the later packages.
- Gifted Companion of Ex-Miscellania. No bonus to apprenticeship learning other with additional bought virtues which detract from your ability to purchase virtues that allow magic use, so a basic magus would have only 345xp at age 20, and only 495xp at age 30.
- Gruagachan. A Gruagachan character as a member of the order is trained exactly the same way as a non member except for having a virtue and flaw that cancel each other out to give him 50xp extra, for a total of 485xp at age 20 if he started his apprenticeship at 10, and to have 635xp by age 30.
All these mechanics show how the character was meant to have been trained.
- Hermetic Magi are taken to their teachers sanctum and given intensive training, during the periods they are not learning by doing as they assist with lab work. Once apprenticeship is over they are assumed to have a stable base with sufficient resources from which they can study without too much trouble.
- Redcaps are given intensive training as an apprenticeship almost equalling that of a Hermetic apprentice, but once apprenticeship is over they are too busy with their work travelling around their Tribunal to get much additional training.
- Gifted Companions are treated as if they were mundane, without the resources of a covenant to allow them to train intensively, there is no difference mechanically to differentiate between their early life and later life. There is no mechanic at all to point to an apprenticeship happening, so their later life shows them having to learn around a job like any scribe or peasant.
- Gruagachan are treated to an apprenticeship every bit as good as that of a Hermetic apprentice, but after that they are out of luck, as they also follow the rules of studying around a job.
For the redcaps that is fair enough, as Redcaps do perform a job, that of travelling Europe as messengers for the Magi. If you want to devote less time to serving the magi as a player then you get less rewards from the Order in return. But for Gifted Companions and Hedge Magi studying as apprentices in the Order it doesn't work. The mechanics for both of these options seem to be saying that these characters were trained outside the Order and only joined and took the Oath just before play began. There should be a mechanic to represent Non-Hermetics whose masters were also Hedge Mages as part of the Order, and who were residing in a Covenant with all the material support that provides in time and resources, after all it doesn't make sense to say that Non-Hermetic magi with labs of their own have to work in the kitchen all day and can only study in the evening before they sleep. There needs to be an option to divorce Non-Hermetics from the mechanics of working for a living.
For me a simple social status Virtue of 'Non-Hermetic Magi' that provides 360xp to be divided as appropriate for the characters theme, and having access to the 'Years after apprenticeship' mechanic fixes the problem. It might encourage more players to play non-hermetics, but they are still at enough of a disadvantage in terms of raw power that the preferred characters will remain the Hermetic Magi.