Seeking the Magical Beasts

Hey kid, wanna buy a magic dog?

A question that has often come up for me, 'How common are Magical Beasts?'. They are a vital part of Ars Magica, due to the requirement of them for familiars, and everyone's need for Vis. The problem is I haven't been able to find a good meter for how difficult it is to find them. While on one hand, the answer is(and should be) based on the story and what it requires... That gives little basis to build on.
The closest I could find was the section on apprentices, where it mentions finding one is a Per 12+ roll if you go out seeking one. Does anyone have other sources I could look at, or suggestions on how to handle Vis hunting and Familiar seeking?

The Cradle and the Crescent has a small insert with vis-hunting mechanics (Hyrkanian vis, p.152 - note it's not just about Hyrkania).

As for familiars, we just have the player tell the troupe "I'd like such and such a familiar". And the troupe devises a appropriate stories; the more impressive the familiar, the more impressive the stories - which need not end with the acquisition of the familiar.

For something less freeform, I'd suggest adapting the mechanics for pilgrimages (from The Church) and/or mystery initiations, and possibly those for agents (from Houses of Hermes: Societates). Something like the following.

Start by adding up points for the familiar. The base is its Might. Add +3 for each minor virtue/power that the player specifically desires; +9 for each major one. The rest of the troupe will be free to give the familiar other "appropriate" powers, but the player has no say on them. The player can also allow the troupe a certain number of points to be spent on negative aspects of the familiar, chosen by the troupe possibly through negotiation with the player to inconvenience the magus or drag him into stories. Again, something minor is worth -3 points, something major like being a demon -9. Personality traits are worth their value in points, positive if they are good (e.g. Loyal +3) negative if bad (e.g. Troublemaker +2). Note that something that's bad for the familiar, and good for the magus (e.g. the familiar must always obey the magus due to some ancient oath) is a plus, not a minus - and vice versa.

This is the Familiar Total, which must be matched by a corresponding Story Total.

To obtain the Story Total, start with one appropriate skill (magic lore, area lore etc.), and add oppositional elements (as per pilgrimage rules), sacrifices of wealth/time/power, etc (as per mystery initiations) etc. The familiar is acquired by the time the Story Total is achieved ... or can be "bought on credit", with appropriate stories/problems following its acquisition.

I would say 10% chance per season to find one per level of Aura. There is a reason, after all, that mages seek the wild, untamed places.......

Sadly, right now I only have the Houses of Hermes and Realms of Power books as sources. I can't easily get a new book so I can use a sidebar.

While I'm happy to run a more freeform story, I don't feel I have a good basis - because I have no idea how frequent a medical beat should come up. This idea is a little harder because my troupe is all newer players, and they prefer finding familiars to seeking them, as it were. Still, this is a great start, and I'll go over agents and mystery initiations again for ideas.

Ok! The mathematical formula (which cannot be protected by copyright, so I'm free to post it - and I think something of this scope would fall into fair use anyways) is the following:

STEP 1. Your is simple die + perception + area lore + modifiers, where modifiers are:

a) + magnitude of vis-detecting spell used, if any (if more than one, use the one with the highest Target modifier, e.g. a vis-vision spell beats a vis-smelling spell) or alternatively + score in magic sensitivity, if anyone in the search party has it. Either one or the other. Or something else similar: I'd allow folk witches to use dowsing instead, for example.
b) + realm lore used, but not higher than area lore used. If something other than magic lore is used, half of the vis obtained is of that realm (e.g. faerie vis if faerie lore is used). For areas that are predominantly under the sway of some other realm, I'd tweak this a bit, but you get the idea.
c) + aura, if the entire region searched lies within a magic aura (again, I'd probably tweak this as for b)).
d) -15/-9/-3 depending on whether the same region was searched in the last season, in the last six months, or in the last year. Technically, these are cumulative, so a region searched last season has also been searched in the last six months AND in the last year, for a penalty of -(15+9+3)=-27, though I'm not sure if this was the author's intent.

STEP 2. Determine the ease factor. This is 9 for a very magic-rich area, 12 for an average wilderness, 15 for a settled area, 18 for the typical city. Add 3 or more if there's competition from other magicians/creatures harvesting vis for their own uses.

STEP 3. If you don't match the ease factor, you waste a season.
If you match the ease factor exactly, you find 1 pawn over 1 season.
Every extra point you roll over the ease factor, either yields an extra pawn, or halves the search time. This is cumulative, and can be mixed: if you roll 6 over the ease factor, you could find 2 extra pawns (for a total of 3) over slightly less than a week (1 season halved a total of 4 times, i.e. some 90 days/16 or approximately 6 days).

This is the formula, which assumes a vis-hunting party just tromps around looking for rumours of unusual and/or perfect specimens of things (the finest lamb born that year, the water from the very bottom of the coldest well, a human-looking tree that drips blood etc.). Note that this activity requires no stories, just like work in the lab requires no stories per se. Also, this never yields renewable vis-sources - though obviously the search can be repeated year after year.

Now the criticism.
Beware. This can rapidly become very, very generous! A minor character with +2 perception, magic sensitivity 5, lore of the local forest 6 and magic lore 6 (including specialties), who searches the local mostly non-magical forest every summer, rolls simple die + 2+5+6+6-3 against an ease factor of 12. On average, he'll get over a rook of vis every year he spends the summer hunting for vis.