I am getting ready to alpha-SG a game for my local group, and have some concerns about book keeping. How do you organize your troupe records? Do you advance all your grogs every season? For a covenant of even modest size, that sounds like a monstrous amount of work. In every game I've played, we started losing track of grogs, so we handwaved it.
What about covenant maintenance? We'd been using a spreadsheet to help us along, since it's infeasible to do it all by hand. This time around, I'm considering dropping all those mechanics - If financial trouble makes sense, make a story out of it - but how do you handle events like improving a lab, or other moderate expenses? Sometimes, a story or other justification may be necessary, sometimes not. With the rules as written, things kind of handle themselves.
Finally, how do you prepare for all those situations that have their own rulesets, but occur spontaneously? For example, if you hadn't foreseen a certamen, having to look up and compute all the totals for both parties is going to drag the game to a halt. How do you ensure that you've got enough mechanics to run with?
Only special ones. Give others a small improvement when it feels like a good time to do so.
If you dont want to bother about any specific financial stuff, just handwave all of it and make a story about it if players are assuming there will always be money when they want it.
You might want to have a "ready to use" story of this kind even, then you can spring it on players as a sidetrack to rescue the finances of the covenant whenever you want or think its suitable.
You can also use it if you ever find yourself lost for a story (if someone makes the current story go somewhere completely odd or unexpected so you need time to prepare).
Any formulae you think you might need, but cant remember, just make a small note of such on a paper and keep it handy.
Adding the numbers together shouldnt take more than a few seconds or if its a big fight or something else complicated, a few minutes. Dont do it alone unless you have to, the players can do their part.
If you have to do it(or the majority) alone, then use it to allow players a short break.
In saga's I've run, I've kept a notebook in which I tracked the seasonal activities of each magus and companion (for example, Fall 1072, Thomas reads the Rego summa, Caldaria researchs Eyes of the Cat, etc.).
In the one saga I've had with large numbers of grogs, each PC was assigned a group of grogs and was responsible for advancing them. We advanced grogs annually instead of seasonally and it was usually fairly simple... like 2 seasons exposure to Awareness or Area Lore for soldiers or in Craft/Profession for covenfolk, 2 seasons of Practice or Training in their primary ability. It was still a huge pain in the but and everyone hated Winter (which was when we did it). I was very happy when 5th ed reduced the suggested number of grogs to 1 soldier and 2 covenfolk per magus.
I tend to use the "core" rules rather than the Covenants rules for maintainence... which is to say that the covenant is self-suffient with enough surplus for minor improvements and major improvements require a story. Moderate improvements, I tend to go with the needs and interests of the players. Raising a new barn wouldn't warrent a story. Improving a lab might make a nice adventure to the annual fair... or might just be resolved with some Bargain rolls by the covenant autocrat if no one is really interested in that story.
Certamen... frankly, we've tried to ignore since we find the 5th ed rules cumbersome. The one saga were it was a factor, the major NPC's who would likely challenge or be challenged where all fully written up complete with their certamen totals (much like combat totals for companions and foes). It helped that we only really dealt with the same 2 or 3 NPC magi every time.
My players hate book-keeping , so i get to do it all.
Rule of thumb , anything magi pay attention to during the season
or actively work at to prevent problems doesnt get any.
They check on income sources , then those continue as normal.
Don't do anything about the problem with the Forest Spirit , lose half their Vis sources , until dealt with.
Ignore reports from your efficient underlings about bandits ,
they organize and improve , or get supernatural aid.
See with their own eyes , a demon taking notes , quietly and unobserved:
"Oh well , not really doing any harm." "We can always DEO it later."
Allow a demon to publish a tractatus in your name and take the credit yourself.
Create a generic template for Grogs , update as needed.
Unless the magi interact with the same Grog , by player choice ,
then dont do individual character sheets.
Learn to use Metacreator to do more stuff , that i still do by hand.
I largely just don't. The only record-keeping I do as SG is to sum up the raw vis sources and stockpiles, which I usually do with a spreadsheet. Money is handwaved, and grogs just don't advance in the brief sagas I've run, without any serious consequences. Of course, I suppose many years will see improvement for specific grogs but in the one saga I was in that extended for a long duration the grogs were mostly just background "stock" characters anyways. We advanced special grogs, that stood out, and left the others with standard statistics.
When Certmen came up, we did "stop" the game and started playing it out. Not sure it's such a great idea, but that's how I always played it.
For handwaving grog advancement, I suggest using the character generation rules instead of detailed season-by-season advancement. It's a little less realistic, but sure is easier than advancing the grog season by season. I'd note also that Stamina drops by 1 point per 2 decades according to the Ultimate Aging and Twilight Simulation, and a rough rule of thumb for death would seem to be 25% at 50, another 25% (of the original numbers) at 55, another 25% by 60, and the rest or nearly so by age 65; this isn't quite the numbers the simulation gets, but is close enough.
QWe have generic stats for grogs. We have 3 grog templates only:
Each category of grog gets
1 skill at level 5,
2 at level 4,
5 at level 3,
5 at level 2,
and 4 skills at level 1.
25 years exactly. Then we add one or 2 V&F (usually a puissant ability for specialists) and some defining elements (uguly face, stutter, sarcasm...) and there we go. This skill set is fixed for the whole life of the grog since he is 16 until he is 35. If at 35 years a grog is still around and in a useful shape, he gets his into the "35-60 grog template", that would be like this one, but fixing XP at 45 years old.
More than enough for GROG level characters for us. As you can see, we do not like bookkeeping that much. All our fighter grogs are identical in fact, even if they are rolepayed in extremely different ways. Sven, my shield grog is a big taciturn norse with a lecherous eye for young herd girls, while Ciarann the sailor is small and sarcastic smelly gambler that gives us a lot of trouble putting HIM out of trouble (we are sick about paying his debts and saving his throat from the fork) but is extremely useful to have around port cities. They have EXACTLY the same set of skills and stats, but are just played differently.
So, the level of bookkeeping pretty much depends on your tastes. We do not like it, so we avoid it. Easy
The covenant gets defined losely. The library and stockpiles of silver pounds (both in money and items since we run a sea transport enterprise) and vis are kept in an easy excel spreadsheet.
Magi and companions are taken care of by their players, each season.
Grogs are only really bothered with if someone plays them regularly enough to bother updating them.
The rest of the grogs? occasionally someone (the SG of the night) will announce a grog-occassion (marriage, death etc) but usually, they are just there in the background.
I am the alpha storyguide for my players, here is what we do.
For each player character (magi and companions) I have a google doc page summarizing his birth date, current longevity potion modifier, long-term goals, NPC friends and fiends, most important virtues and flaws, and occupation for each past season. Of course the player can also consult it.
We don't play grogs, when we need stats for one (like a convenant guard) we just take a random name and use a template from main book (the "tough soldier" one for instance).
We use a google doc spreadsheet too, everyone can read it. The player playing the covenant leader is responsible for keeping it up-to-date over the years.
It it requires some rare material then a story is needed of course. Else we just remove some money from the covenant treasury. The sum is usually described in the covenants book and as it rarely occurs during a story it is no big deal to spend some time to find it.
If I can access quickly the rules then I use them. Else I invent them on-the-fly, trying to make them "feel fair" for the players.
For me, personally, one of the BIG appeals of Ars Magica, the one that makes it tower head and shoulders above every other RPG (on the SG-ing side especially) is the way that it incorporates both a very rich, intricately detailed setting dripping with stories (which you can augment with as much or as little historical research as you like) with a fairly robust, nitty-gritty system.
(On a side note, I've never seen a 'necessary' dichotomy between meticulous book-keeping and in-depth roleplay, though I can see how it'd be very easy to tend toward one or the other)
As a player, the covenant resource management 'minigame' is a big part of this appeal. As a player OR SG, community roleplaying the ability to tell the stories of all of the grogs of a covenant is another, and I feel like I would be skimping on them if I didn't advance them, for the most part, like normal characters.
As for book-keeping, I'm one of the stereotypical ones who uses Excel like crazy.
With a wiki. It means that everyone can see and comment on spell designs, item designs, and so forth, as well as collaboratively build the background.
Yes, unless there's a good reason not to. Takes a couple of hours for every game year.
We use the rules in Covenants, but basic lab improvements aren't a significant expense; if you just ruled that the characters could do one big thing or a couple of smaller things a year, then that would be close enough.