Scandinavian Saga questions

Ave Sodales,

So I've recently decided to put together saga (online) with some friends. I'm experienced with GM-ing in general but I have never played Ars Magica before (I've had the 5th edition core book for like... 5 years on the shelf with no game... I still have an unused core book for 3rd edition duh :smiley:) So, I have a few questions if anyone is around and I would also welcome any advice.

We will probably play every few weeks (like every 1-3 depending on time available).

I am planning to start a saga where a group of freshly gauntleted magi are backed by people the Rhine tribunal to set up a covenant in scandinavia (relatively close to Bergen). Their backers are interested in the whole order of odin fright as well as foreign magical traditions. They consider it an "experiment", since even if the covenant fails they will have gathered valuable information about what to expect if the Order ever makes a move to expand there. The story will start about 1100.

So Basically:


  • PCs can own land without owing fealty
  • Lots of minor semi-autonomous "lords"
  • Dominion is relatively weak at that time and the old faith is still prevalent
  • Vis is probably abundant
  • I don't have do deal with a lot of order politics in the beginning


  • Their means of contacting the order is limited, with maybe one redcap visit every 1-3 years.
  • Acquiring stuff like glassware and the like is troublesome since Bergen has a population of 7000 and that is one of the largest "cities" there.
  • Faeries are everywhere. Since many settlements have no dominion aura yet, they literally live in households.
  • Their backers will be interested in expanding the influence into scandiavia through them (so i do get to introduce politics later)
  • There is going to be a major civil war in a few decades which will last for years and lead to more centralised power.
  • Local magical traditions who might or might not like them, with no chance to call in the cavalry if things get ugly.


  • In your experience, how much yearly Vis is normal? How much is a lot? Do the guidelines of the core book on that really work?
  • Do you see any major weak points in this concept that will cause trouble (i mean trouble that makes it hard to play)?
  • How do you handle troupe style play in practice? Say, a grog played by X has a lengthy conversation with the now-NPC companion who is also normally played by X. How do you usually handle that?
  • Since the magi are freshly out of gauntlet and they are going on an expedition to the fringes of Europe I think their masters / backers will probably give them a small gift of books, Vis, maybe a few minor enchanted items, and some material goods. at the same time, I do want them to have to fight to gain a foothold in the north... so in your perception, what would make a sensible starting boost?

Thanks all :slight_smile:

First off, sounds like a great game. You asked:

In the Greater Alps, a covenant cannot add a magus to its roster unless it can show that it has 10 pawns of vis a year to give to that magus. This is a benchmark for a reliable healthy income in a stable environment. If a covenant has 10 pawns per year per magus, they are doing pretty good. They are going to run a surplus and that means they will accumulate a large amount of vis stores. This is especially true of young magi, who simply aren't as capable of spending vis as quickly as senior magi. Also, the "vis hunt" is a staple of Ars play, especially for young covenants. Start out with modest vis sources, let it expand as the players search. Also, you might look at THROUGH THE AEGIS, which has 5 fully developed covenants in it. Incredibly useful book.

I don't see any obvious problems, and I encourage you to simply ignore elements of the canon or setting which do not suit your game. For example, I'd actually be pretty surprised if Christianity was not reasonably common in Scandinavia at this time. But you know what? Even if that's true... forget it. Throw it out. You want to deal with Odin-worshippers? Put'em in.

For troupe play, it is important for all the players to help you make it work. Players should avoid having one of their characters go to another one of their characters, even when this "makes sense." Send them to some other PC instead. Everyone has to be on board with this; it is a conceit of the game. For some players, conceits seem artificial and fake, and they take great umbrage at having to obey them. But remember that every genre we watch and enjoy has conventions. Remind your players how, every time a phone rings on CSI or Law & Order or whatever, it is always a call about the exact same case that everyone is standing around talking about. Which is a ridiculous coincidence and absurd on the face of it, but we don't blink an eye at it because that's just how these shows work. And so it is with Troupe play. Players need to talk to characters who belong to other players, not their own.

You might give the players some stuff that allows them to go places you want them to be able to go, to survive stuff you don't want them dying from, and which plays to their strengths, because that's always fun. For example, if you don't want their companions to have to worry about dying of cold and frostbite, give them cloaks that keep them warm. If you want them to go traveling through the snow, give them magic skis or a pack of Magical dogs with Might 3 or so. One kind of cool thing to do is to create a modest enchanted item and make it the symbol of office for whoever becomes leader of the covenant. If you want, you can even create a few lesser enchanted items and use them for various offices; for example, the princeps, the autocrat, and the turb captain each get a lesser item useful in their job. You might give them a small gang of well-trained shield grogs, which the magi will certainly appreciate, as they do not want to die.

Again, THROUGH THE AEGIS includes two Spring covenants (one Winter covenant trying to get into Spring) and all its build point expeditures are shown for you to compare. Also, look at Semita Errebunda, the sample covenant on the Atlas Games Ars Magica page. That's also a new covenant, and you can get a feel for the power level.

Re:how Christian or pagan Norway is at the time - Olaf II aka St Olaf was King 1015-1028 and did a lot of forcible conversion and church building. If you're playing in 1220, you are two centuries after that so there is a lot of Christianity and a lot of the paganism is half-remembered superstition.

Vis - a lack of human population and a spectacular landscape means there should be a lot of vis. The question is, what's consuming it? Is it native magic practitioners, or are magic creatures (animals, trolls, giants) eating it all?

How much yearly vis is normal? Hard to say, games vary so much. Depends on how you want the power level to progress, and whether you see your magi getting most of their studying in from books or vis, and how many magic items you want. In a game with multiple verditius and the covenant making its income from magically creating things, you'll probably want more than a game full of book learners.

EDIT: As you're starting in a region with lots of vis sources they can steal from the current owners, you may as well start low and offer new vis sources as rewards.

He did state the year was around 1100, and some of the norwegian pagans were notoriously slow to convert from what I've read.

The Core Ars Magica book does provide some suggestions about how much Vis should be available, in a box on p. 218. That said, my own troupe(s) have tended towards the lower end of the spectrum.
If you go for a Covenant with a lot of books, this works fairly well, but the VErditius will be frustrated. But if you're fairly isolated from the Order, and so rely on Vis for Art-XPs, you will want a bit more. It also rather depends on the power level you want for your covenant.

Not really. It means your focus won't be on hermetic politics (probably), but more on something else - maybe external enemies?

In practice, this has (in my experience) generally proven to be simple enough. However, we do recommend that at least the magus and companion of the same player should be interested in different things, so that they are unlikely to go off on the same story. Indeed, this also widens the types of stories for which you have a relevant character. I have also personally recommended that it could be an idea to have your magus and companion dislike eachother on a personal level. Not so much as to start a vendetta, but more along the likes of "I'm not going to be travelling for days with that boorish oaf if I can help it! You go." level, to minimize the situations where you're likely to be talking to your self for any extended amount of time. Our grogs has typically been fairly simple characters (witha few exceptions), meaning that lengthy philosophical debates with grogs were less of an issue.

This depends heavily of how you want your saga to work and feel. Books are always good - probably ones the characters themselves were told to copy as apprentices. Maybe a few minor devices, either for combat (wands with Pilum of Fire?) or convenience (providing light and heat during the long, cold norwegian winters perhaps), depending on the (early) themes you want for your covenant.
Personally, I'd value skilled covenfolk very highly, but those might not be available.

For comparison, I seem to recall London had about 15000 inhabitants at the time. This is also what wikipedia suggests, for whatever that's worth. In Guardians of the Forest, I think Trier is mentioned as having 300 inhabitants. 7000 is not bad for this era. Especially when you're not on the mediterrain sea.


Yes, although much of the land, certainly the best land, is claimed and settled. An isolated place with weak claims could probably be found.

See previous note. Those lords are going to be willing to slaughter these weird foreigners, so the magi should tread carefully and have a solid hand for dealing with hostile mortals.

Weak Dominion, yes. Old Faith present, possibly; not prevalent, though.

Probably. It may still be hard to secure rights of access.

You don't have to, no. If the covenant is heavily sponsored they may still have a lot of politics to face; it depends much on what you want to do.


Every year to begin with, and House Mercere is likely to want to help, partly from the nature of the house, partly to use the covenant as a stepping stone, and partly to expand trading and exploring opportunities. I suspect that the Redcaps will establish as fast a route as they can, and try to visit twice a year (early spring and early autumn) and then thrice a year when possible (spring, summer, autumn, avoiding winter).

True. It may be worth establishing some crafts simply to not have to import it.

Faeries are everywhere anyway, but yes there will be quite a few of them, and with less in the way of saints to drive them to the edges of society. Bonus: they're Scandinavian faeries, so they're darker, grimmer, and unfamiliar.

Indeed. This area is nominally claimed by Novgorod, but the Rhine has a vested interest. See Guardians of the Forest for some details. I would imagine that establishing a Tribunal of Thule (or other name) could become a major goal.

The Schism is not likely to be fought here, unless Diedne or Tremere has established a presence. Once the war is underway, this covenant may flourish, or founder, in isolation.

Luckily, there are established Norse-Scandinavian magical traditions to use.


Yes; they are young, weak, and ignorant. Heading off into the wild with no hope of support is insane and deadly dangerous. On the other hand, they don't have to deal with much from older, more powerful Hermetic magi, and their oversight from the traditional monitors of the Order will be minimal.

Politely. This subject is worth a thread of its own.

Depends very much on how much backing. I would say a solid library, a supply of vis, one or two major enchanted items, a few expert specialists, and a cadre of hard-bitten grogs. The books are vital; they are going to have trouble expanding their library.

To answer your questions in order:

  • The amount of Vis you give out is contingent on a number of factors including: intended power level of the saga, availability of books as study material, types of stories you intent to tell, and prevalence of monsters (themselves a source of potential vis). That said, It's generally accepted in this game that it's best to lean towards the lower end as it's relatively easy to give players more vis if needed, but it's considered bad form to strip them of resources arbitrarily. Personally, I find the suggested amounts a bit low in play, but think they work well as a starting point.
  • None immediately leap to mind.
  • In the example given, grogs are generally played communally b whoever's available. Companions can be more trouble, but most suggest minimizing that risk by associating your companion with one or more other player's magi to facilitate their inclusion in stories centred on that player...
  • I guess that would depend on the specific magi involved and the perceived threats they might face and what sort of payoff is expected from the experiment, but OoO menace would seem to require at least a combat oriented item or two and probably a decent study source for Parma Magica. In actuality, so long as it's paid for via boons/hooks, you shouldn't be too far off - Ars Magica tends to have very loose tolerances in this regard due to the raw power magi wield