I believe that there are a variety of traditions in various Tribunals as to whether the founding of a covenant requires Tribunal approval or whether all magi must belong to a Covenant (e.g. Loch Leglean has a bunch of hermit magi and Rome has un-official covenants and independent magi).
Can anyone give a brief survey of these traditions for me (as stated by the various Tribunal books)? Or quote any relevant Code sections that relate?
Is there an official stance on:
(1) Must a mage belong to a Covenant?
(2) Must a Covenant seek Tribunal approval before being founded?
What are the negatives of being independent/unofficial? My guess is that independent magi can still register personal vis sources with Redcaps. But unofficial Covenants probably are not recognized to hold anything in common - thus cannot register a Covenant vis source with Redcaps and also breaking an unofficial Covenant oath is probably not a crime unless it violates part of the Code.
Order wide I think a mage must belong to a House and a Tribunal to avoid orphan status which can lead to being outcast. I cannot think of a Tribunal that forbids Independent magi - in the Rhine Tribunal where forming new covenants is most restricted the tradition of hospitality to perigrinatores is most developed to compensate and craft Magi are described as nearly always independents who only swear the oath for the protections of membership. Since the Rhine tribunal restricts covenant formation to conserve resources I would imagine that they do not allow independents and unapproved covenants to register vis sources. The holding of property in common is a matter of sworn contract (literally a covenant) between the Magi involved - I cannot see it needing sanction although the Rhine Tribunal may punish magi for swearing one without permission and would not help enforce it.
The Rhine tribunal requires the approval of all existing covenants to found a new one, although in practice the last one would approve out of etiquette. Magi that don't have a covenant lack all communal rights - which I indeed take to mean their joint rights over vis, books, and upholding their covenant Charter through Tribunal and Quaesitorial powers. I would also, however, suggest that the pripheral code may include further provisions, such as recognizing the council hall of the covenant as a private area so that scrying on it would be scrying on one's sodales; and recognizing the storage room and library as effectively lesser "sancta" of the covenant (so that they can reasonably attack those that go in to steal their communal raw vis, and so on).
Eremites, i.e. lone magi, are respected and have all the rights of an individual magus - but not communal rights, of course. There are eremites as well as covenant-based magi in the tribunal.
(1) No, there is no rule saying a mage must belong to a covenant, although belonging to one brings some benefits. But there is one delicate point to consider: it is the responsibility of the magus to make sure the Redcaps can reach him at need (if they can't, and the Tribunal puts his residency status into question, he'll end up losing his residency in the Tribunal and becoming a vagrant), but Redcaps normally register only covenants. If the magus is a guest at one, that is no problem, or if he has a permanent residence in a city, but a Bjornaer loner who spends his time hiding in the woods in wolf form might have a problem. Basically, you don't have to belong to a covenant, but you do need to arrange for your mail to be delivered at a reasonably fixed address.
(2) I think that is left to the Tribunal to rule, but almost all would have rulings requiring Tribunal confirmation. Of course it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission: a covenant's chances are better if it is built and running before the issue comes to Tribunal.
As a related point, I'll mention that while it's not mandatory to belong to a Covenant, a mage must belong to a Tribunal, even if they are far and long removed from that authority. In practice this guarantees that there is a Regional Tribunal to hear charges against that mage every 7 years, and one need not wait for a Grand Tribunal to bring a case against a wanderer.
Actually, this is a point that varies quite a bit (at least between players if not between Tribunals, but quite possibly that too). The central question is: "Does an agreement between magi have any status as a "Covenant" until it is recognized as a Covenant by the local Tribunal authority?"
Some say "yes", some "no" - in the Rhine and Alps, it would clearly be a mistake to think so, and so may vary from region to region. In other Tribunals... harder to say without some SG guesswork. Stonehenge, Hibernia and Loch-Leglean are a bit less officious than some others, the Novgorod is tricky to navigate, and the Iberian has its own internal ongoing struggle - my personal take is that each Tribunal has its own local view of the matter, and for its own valid reasons.
And it's an important question - the rights of a Covenant, the rights of that collection of magi within a Covenant, are significantly broader than the rights of a group of magi who happen to agree "to live near each other and share stuff".
But whatever your answer, it should be clear to any Character (or, at least to any with access to the Code of Hermes ability, including most any NPC Redcap), even if not to the Players, so consult with the Troupe, maybe kick it around more on these boards, and make a decision for your Saga.
Others have addressed the issue of independent magi, but I just wanted to add this thought: All those Eremite magi cannot count towards constituting a quorate Tribunal. Twelve magi from four Covenants is the requirement for a Tribunal. I can see situations in Tribunals like Loch Leglean, Stonehenge, or Novgorod, where Eremite magi were plenty but covenants fewer having inquorate Tribunals due to missing the requisite covenant participation. (Indeed, Stonehenge was like this for some time in 4e canon.)
But the word "covenant" (small "c") includes the implication of "contract" or "agreement", and I've always interpreted that as "between the magi of the Covenant" rather than "between C and Tribunal". So, short of schizophrenic magi, that really doesn't fit, or not in that one sense, at least.
And it might depend on the Tribunal - if the magi "declare" themselves, it might be legit, but if the Tribunal has right of dis/approval, it might not be seen as an attractive proposition, depending.
I'm not sure it needs more than just the potential to have more than one Magi. Take your typical Winter Covenant- you could be just one Cascading Twilight of Botches away from having 4+ magi in the Covenant down to a single survivor on this plane of reality. Again, a 1 Magi Covenant, which while in a precarious existence would still be counted as a Covenant.
Rather depends on which tribunal you're in I'd say.
IIRC, Normandy tribunal specifies a minimum number of magi.
In the Rhine tribunal, you're a covenant if and only if the tribunal permits you to be.
It's the same in Rome tribunal I think, except it's not enforced.
In transylvania, I suspect you're a covenant if and only if the primus/prima of house Tremere say you are...
In general, a magus/maga need not belong to a covenant, but will find it hard to aquire sufficient resources otherwise.
Rhine Tribunal: A magus/maga is not required to belong to a covenant, indeed there is a strong tradition of Peregrinatores - wandering magi that have yet to settle down/be accepted into a covenant. Think journeymen of various craft guilds.
Covenants must be accepted by every existing covenant in order to be formally founded. Until then, they are not legally recognized but indeed rather strongly discouraged.
Chapter Houses are possible though.
Normandy Tribunal: requires proof of a certain amount of vis income, and that there's at least a day's journey to the next covenant.
That's pretty much it. More details on p. 27ff of L&L.
Thebes Tribunal: requires covenant tohave a declared purpose, and a Patron. Covenants must be accepted by the tribunal, though this appears to be a formality.
Rome Tribunal (3rd edition!): Permission from the tribunal is required and not granted - but half the covenants are "unofficial" and the only real harm they seem to suffer from this, is that redcaps aren't required to deliver mail addressed to an unofficial covenant (are there others? I don't seem to recall any).
Greater Alps (4th edition!): New covenants require permission from the tribunal - and this is not granted. No new covenants permitted, this is appearantly rather strictly enforced. Chapter Houses are an option though.
Stonehenge 4th Ed - since Voluntas, Nigrasaxa and Libellus all founded themselves to oppose the then politically dominant Blackthorn, it suggests that in Stonehenge any group of Magi can declare themselves a Covenant without permission from the Tribunal.
I doubt that many Tribunals would disband existing covenants for low membership - that wasn't the question, which sprung from the discussion of "independent" magi and Eremites - whether a lone mage could declare themselves as a new Covenant.
But my point is that a lone mage could use a Winter Covenant with a single member as precedent - i.e. "Why cant I be a one man Covenant if he is over there?" and appeal to the Tribunals sense of justice.
Ah - hrmmm... well, there is a clear difference, but where that difference falls is the question. I'm not sure it could be a "precedent" so much as support for the argument - either a Covenant has validity with 1 member or it doesn't. (Of course, that suggestion might piss off some low-membership Winter covenants!)
Myself, as a SG, I'd have to rule that "somewhere in the Peripheral Code" is a comment about a minimum threshold for a Spring Covenant to register anew, probably "3" as an arbitrary number. (Winter Covenants are what they are, a diff matter*). And whether or not a given Tribunal cares or not is yet another matter still, as is what the implications are for a Covenant that is not registered/recognized within a spec Tribunal.
(* The obvious diff is that a Winter Covenant was, at some time, (significantly?) more than 1 mage - unless the "1-mage Covenant" is bought into entirely - and then we must ask how a 1-man Spring ever became a Summer/Autumn, and how we'd tell the diff...)
The main diff between a lone mage and a 1-mage covenant affects the few Covenant rights and customs - most notably, the claiming of vis and other magical resources and a "footprint" in general, something that a Tribunal might want to discourage in "lone" magi.
I vary that by saga, and more importantly Tribunal.
Rhine and Rome have got very strict rules on covenant formation. Normandy has its own rules too. However, I don't recall anything about Thebes having any requirements beyond citizenship. Given the war-torn nature of the Iberian and Levant tribunals I'd say no-one really cares at a tribunal level there. If you're tough enough to survive as a one-magus covenant then anyone who objects will express their displeasure via wizard's war.
A point not without merit, but I was thinking of the practical hassle of "mapping" new covenants if a single mage could just set up camp somewhere and declare themselves a Covenant. They then "have a right" (if not an inarguable one) to the unclaimed vis near them - disputes are bound to arise. How many such footprints is the Tribunal supposed to adjudicate? How do Redcaps keep up with it all?
Then there's the added question/complication of "hit and run" covenants - if a single mage can declare themselves a Covenant, then it's not very hard for them to "disband" in their current location and do it again somewhere else each year, or even each season. Oy.
Peripheral rulings could limit this, but all these practical problems are largely solved if establishing "a new covenant" is perforce between multiple magi. It strikes me as the sort of headache that arose when Corporations became legal entities.
There's not that many magi in a Tribunal. And if one or two are playing silly buggers to the extent that it upsets the other magi, there is always Wizard's War or Certamen to make them stop.
While on the one hand, the Redcaps have a duty to deliver messages and so forth, if a particular magus is forever wandering around it's his responsibility to register his location with the Redcaps. If they can't find him, then the Redcaps can't deliver his messages and they can't confirm any claims he makes with regard to vis sources, etc. Which is his problem, not the Redcap's problem.
But it's not "silly", it's a legit tactic if it's not illegal, or even close to illegal. Same as peregrinatores, only with more to gain.
To flip that same coin around, how does a Tribunal respond to magi declaring Wizard's Wars against magi who are doing nothing wrong, or using Certamen to bully them the same? There are parts of the Peripheral Code about that, too. If your mage doesn't like silly Peregrinatores or silly Eremites and fomented a campaign against them, how long would he last?