Saga's set earlier in the Order's history

How much background and support is available?

As you may have noticed, I like to think up indirect spells where natural phenomena act as major force multipliers and I believe that such tricks would fit within the conceptual framework of at least some scholars of the time given access to hermetic magic. So the question arises: even granted the Order is deliberately non-optimised, after four hundred years of military magic development why are no Flambeau using powder explosions or state change tsunamis? That question loses a lot of it's force if the game is set a few hundred years earlier when the capabilities of hermetic magic are new and the mundane knowledge base is more restricted - then it makes sense for the PCs to be the one thinking these things up for the first time.
I like the idea of a saga where the PCs cause mass destruction by cunning spell design rather than very high arts and a ton of vis and it's plausible. So what does Atlas have to help someone run Total War: Dark Ages?

Check out the histories of the Houses in the HoH series, for character and enemy ideas. You might even have your characters re-fight the schism wars, or take part in Pralix's epic campaign...

The Houses of Hermes Series give good overviews of Hermetic history, giving some good story hook ideas, if you're interested. There's also supplements on Rival Magics, Ancient Magics and such histories, including bits on the Order of Odin, and its formidible war against the OoH.

Books on the Dark Ages are incredibly common. Pick one or two up, or spend a day browsing Wikipedia.

Pay especial attention to HoH: Societas (Ex Miscellania) for good ideas for Hedge Wizards. The defining feature of the Dark Ages for the Order of Hermes was the prevalence and relevance of Hedge Wizards and the tensions leading up to and the outbreak of the Schism war.

Other Awesome events to play with potential alternate settings/endings are:
the Sundering of Tremere
the Corruption of Tytalus
the Betrayal of Verditus
the first Crusade
the Odin Wars
the Merinita Civil War (forget the official title)
the Siege of Cinterra (more recent event, ongoing -- just the invasion of the Danish islands, really, but Bjornaer are such drama queens...)
the Swearing of the Witches of Thessaly and Sihir of Iberia (over Flambeau objections)

The Donatores had the opening battles against the Cult of the Dead in Normandy, which also would make for a great story.

There have been a couple of discussions of good hedge-enemies on these fora. Some good ideas might be:

Craft Magus renegade with some way to disguise or shroud cast reliably, who launches a campaign against the nobility of....wherever.... by knocking down castles and arming the peasants.
Pharmacopean leaders of a pagan group who command hold-out clan of super-buffed warriors (a la Asterix and Obelix)
A Hedge Wizard-petty king who really, really doesn't want to give up his holdings upon swearing the Oath.

Note -- you can give the Hedge tradition multiple powers/person (i.e. Whistle up the Wind and Craft Magic, Shapeshifting and Entrancement, Nature Lore and Beast Summoning etc...) and can even give each tradition a handful of incantations they know outside their special power (left-overs from Mercurian rites or Druidic incantations, etc.)

With Parma, they can be quite powerful.

Just follow the universal rule of Ars Magica, and it will work for almost any pre-modern period: Be creative, and let the flavour soak in. The history is the backdrop; the story comes from your imagination, and the best hooks will be viable in any time frame.

The Supplements shouldn't be used as story crutches. The stories are ideas, not orders set in stone. The service they provide is in 1.) Providing a really rich and flavourful RPG system with good story seed ideas and 2.) Way, way more importantly, BALANCING that system mechanically, so that its enjoyable and challenging.

You don't need any supplements more than they've provided to make a really good dark-ages game.

Depending on how early you play, another factor can be the impression that early on, there were much shorter apprenticeships... ie.SpeakLatin4, Magic Theory 3, Artes Liberals 1, Arts Opened, One Technique and Form at 6, maybe 25 lvls of spells in that tech/form combo, Parma Magica 1 and they're done!

Really? I was not aware of that!! Where did you read about this? it is very interesting stuff.

Xavi

I'm thinking of the Houses of Hermes series, where it's implied that the Founders turned out apprentices very quickly, especially True Lineages, where it talks about Bonisagus.

Actually, Bonisagus's prodigus training rate was from sandwiching training-seasons together, or training multiples at once. (15 seasons can be done in 4 1/4 years)...

Others trained multiple apprentices simultaneously.

Generally, they were dedicated teachers, but many (like Verditius) had no more than 5 hermetic apprentices...

Whatever, sounds like nitpicking to me. There's nothing in the rules saying an apprentice has to take all 15 years to become a magus, that's the point.

Apprenticeships are 15 years long so that the Master gets some thing out of the deal. Namely skilled help in the lab long enough to make up for the time you sacrifice training your apprentice. You have to figure in the days of the founders that wasn't Bonisagas and the other's primary goal. They wanted to grow the order. Also the founders and the other early recruits weren't wet behind the ear kids. They where nominally powerful mages in their own right and couldn't be expected to serve at the foot of a master for a decade and a half. In fact most of the actual founders seem to be more collaborators then pupils by their descriptions.

I would say if all you want to do is get someone trained and out the door apprenticeships can be pretty darn short. A shilled teacher (I'm assuming Boni had good teacher and a high Com) could probably get someone up to the minimums in less then the 15 seasons it's supposed to take.