Starting a new campaign in an established covenant

Over on the 'Rules Insights from Veteran GMs' thread the advice has been firmly given to newbie Storyguides: Don't whatever you do, start with a newly established Spring Covenant.

For reasons not unconnected with the fact that my first two tries at running ARS MAGICA floundered, I take that advice to heart.

But there is a difficulty if you take that advice which is this: You are starting up to half a dozen new magi in an established covenant. How in the name of Hermes Trismegistus are you supposed to make that believable? Why would any established covenant take on that many new magi all at once? Covenants in published sources tend to have councils of Magi in single figures so we are potentially talking about new faces making up half of the council or more.

Has the covenant had some sort of disaster hit it? Did the Mage Killing Flu of 1219 rip through the elderly wizards or did they all vanish into Twilight at a spectacularly botched Aegis of The Hearth ceremony?

Or have they had a sudden attack of good fortune? Someone has left them the abandoned palace next to their urban covenant and they have room to double their membership?

Did all the senior Magi decide to take apprentices at about the same time and they've all qualified together?

Give me some ideas, oh wise ones?

Ok. Let's look at this since we have done that before :slight_smile: My first successful saga was when we changed the idea of newly founded covenant to established covenant as well. There are only 4 magi around here, though, si it is easier for us. Sitll, it might help you.

    If it is a summer or autumn covenant it is easy for a pair of the magi to be recently gauntleted. if their parens are more or less the same hermetic age and belong to the same covenant it is easy for them to have taken apprentices more or less at the same time (2 year difference). Those players should have Covenant lore at level 2 or 3.

    The members of the covenant want to boost their numbers to become a political powerhouse. There can be a number of reasons for this. It might be that they want to put forward a controversial move at tribunal, that they want to smack the opposition etc etc. So they recruit the last 2-4 recently gauntleted magi in their tribunal or nearby tribunals.

    Some covenants grow bigger in their plots, and might need new managers to deal with some of their assets. Covenants heavy in mundane interaction can have this problem if the magi do not want to pass part of the burder into mundane hands. or maybe the wares are hermetic, and the magi do not want to invest so much time creating items, managing the vis distillations structures or somesuch.

    Maybe the prioblem is that the magi need extra hands to run the usual (read: mundane and low supernatural) part of the covenant since they are going for BIG stuff, like breaking a hermetic limit. it would be the older magi entering into big stuff and becoming a powerful research centre. You would be the staff that runs the covenant while the oldies play with their toys in the highly specialized mega-lab.

    Maybe your started a covenant 3 years ago. And maybe you failed. This covenant offered to allow you in if you agreed to do some of the stuff listed above. Getting you in in a junior position can allow them to do all or none of the above plots.

    Maybe you are playing mostly non hermetic traditions. And they are scrying on you (plot hook!!) to see how you do your magic in order to integrate your traditions. Who said your rivals are far away?

    An option would be to put a chapter house around. Solves you a few of the problems of establishment while allowing you some sidestepping margin. Maybe not now, but you have been promised that the covenant will be financing your effort to stablish a covenant in a few years time. For a (friendly) price, of course.

Just some random ideas. We have used a fgew of those and worked pretty well :slight_smile:


To add to Xavi's list, see several further scenarios.

  1. The Winter Revival: An aging winter covenant, down it its last two (one?) members, is recruiting new magi to fill up its ranks. This has the advantage of having all the covenant-basics set up (it already has an income source, relations with nearby mundanes, legal status, and so on), but possibly a rather weak library (you don't want to have a full winter library - at least not accessible to the players), raw vis sources that need to be "re-kindled" so you you could gradually increase raw vis amounts to the levels you are comfortable with, and senior-NPCs to deal with non-interesting aspects of the setting or with recovering from PC screw-ups. It also makes for a good structure for the saga, where the senior NPCs send the PCs to adventures (in-game; out-of-game, always asks who wants to go to the adventure, unless it involves a story-flaw or somesuch); for reactive adventures, which will be the first ones at least, that is a great mega-structure for a saga.

  2. The Chapter House: A large covenant is setting up a new chapter-house or vassal covenant, and you are (some of?) the new members drafted to fill it up. This can also be an initiative by a House to set up a new covenant, if your players are mostly from a single House. This option has more-distant superiors, which brings with it more independence. The large covenant/house has set up all the basics that you want it to - providing a pet noble and income source, for example; you could also have it provide stuff with an "expiration date" so that you have a "saga outline" of sorts - e.g. "in 14 years the stipend (income source) provided by the Mother House is stopped, so we need to arrange some money-making scheme before then". You can have a senior friendly magus from the mother house still around for a few years post-foundation (e.g. setting up the magical weaving factory), for a more close-by superior.

  3. The huge covenant. I once had a covenant with 100 magi. In such a large place, it makes sense for many new magi to finish apprenticeship at about the same age, and/or for a bunch of new recruits to come-in at the same time. This is a whole different set-up, however, as having lots of magi means the saga is significantly different, and I don't really recommend it unless you want to go that route.

Well, the Winter Revival idea is good but you want to have a covenant that has at least a couple of non-senile magi left.

The Chapter House has almost as many problems as the Spring Covenant IMHO. If you're not actually on the main site of the covenant you're going to miss out on things that are important (access to the library, political information and infighting) so you've got what's in effect a weaker Spring Covenant with a duty to the mother house.

The HUUUUUGGGEEE covenant is a bit out of canon except for maybe the House Domus Magna. Or a covenant that is only slightly on the mundane plane.

I like the idea of nudging up the voting strength of the covenant though the danger would be that the newcomers will remake the covenant in their own image. Possibly best to combine it with the Winter Covenant.

Hmmm. I should write these up as prospective settings.

I prepared a variant of the Winter Covenant some years ago, though the saga never got off the ground for unrelated reasons.

This has the advantage that things like income and external relations have already been dealt with (though the situation might change).
There a valid reason for not having a huge library available to the player magi, as well as having only a few enchanted items about (Epitamos ate them).
One of the 2 surviving magi was nursing the secret that his Gift had been severly damaged during the attack (which was why he didn't just solve any problems the players might encounter).
Plenty of opportunity to (re-)build and make the covenant your own, even though you start with an existing base rather than a green field site.

Equal towards the outside world does not mean equal towards the inside world. So, the newcomers provide sigils for voting BY THEIR BETTERS at tribunal, but their voting power INSIDE the covenant is small, or even non existant. Access to resources in exchange for independence. Quite a trade off here. An established covenant is unlikely to provide voting rights to newcomers unless they are tested first to be worthy and they are seen to be sensible in the same line as the old timers.

You can even combine the 2: a pair of members of the covenant bring new recruits to break the status quo existing in the covenant, where they are the usual losers in collective votes.

Lots of options :slight_smile:


Having experienced the implosion of every Ars game I've been in (on PbP only) due to the Spring covenant conundrum, I agree with this maxim wholeheartedly. The saga I'm building has an established covenant but nothing too major such as a Winter. The covenant is in its first generation but almost everyone is gone. I spent some time trying to figure out how a covenant could rise and fall so quickly and came up with the following timeline

-Jerbiton travels to island, probationary member at Summer covenant. Attempts to assault female apprentice of covenant head and is thrown out.
-Jerbiton bums around island and finds a neat vis source that is claimed by another covenant.
-Jerbiton heads to mainland and recruits two other magi (Misc and Criamon), lies to them about the spot. They hire outside covenant to raise Tower. Significant loan.
-Tribunal has ruling that covenant has automatic claim to all sources within 12 miles.
-Three magi start covenant, steal vis source.
-Tribunal ruling comes down in their favor. Two other magi are mad but whatevs. Former apprentice hates Jerbiton as does her covenant.
-Two other magi join (Flambeau and Merinita)
-Jerbiton and female magi declare wizards war. Both return alive and tell covenant mates everything is settled. Jerbiton settles down under threat from mates and volunteers to be librarian/resource supervisor. Quiet years commence.
-Merinita disappears in a faerie forest (it is assumed). Flambeau takes apprentice.
-Jerbiton is slain by female maga.
-Guernicus investigation reveals that previous Wizard War ended in Jerbiton agreeing to provide X vis to female every year. Jerbiton drained covenant dry to pay this female maga, defaulted on loans to other covenant, and investigation reveals that since he defaulted on peace agreement, the War reactivated, and the slaying was justified.
-Covenant now is broke, defaulted on loan and is hated by everyone.
-New loan agreement is higher rate
-Flambeau and apprentice head to the wilderness in the north to found new covenant of milites
-Criamon enters Twilight in his lab and remains there for a few years
-Remaining maga spends all resources in covenant to settle debt, sends out call for new magi. Hopes to make a new start.

The covenant has vis sources, income, library, a bad reputation from the previous Founder but is otherwise a decent set-up.
Oh yeah, remaining Maga has Difficult Longevity Ritual so she has about 15 years left. Enough to get everyone on their feet before she dies and they take over.
Criamon will come out of Twilight after 33 years... that should prove interesting.

Basically, run a covenant through its paces and realize that apprentices leave, people are people (and don't get along all the time) and hardship causes migration.

You MAY want to have a strong library, if for example you want characters busy doing other things than trying to get ahold their preferred reading or if you simply want to give players the option of easy advancement in whatever skill or Art they want.

There´s also the option of "it exists... but...", which could for example be that there IS a huge, totally great library, except currently the books are spread out all over the place, some in the sanctums of former/twilight stricken/dead magi that are more or less guarded, some are hidden in previous magi´s favorite reading spots... etc...
Or there might "just" be a bunch of creatures or fairies using the library as their favorite playground, making any attempt at finding and getting out with the books you want, problematic.

I´ve found that making it 2-3 tends to be best, it provides both a bit of variation and redundancy just in case players mess things up so terribly that one of the old magi gets unconditionally killed.

Big places are quite cool really. Haven´t really ever tried playing with players as part of such a big thing, but have used it in games as a place to go(set it up like halfway as a magic university in one case and as a permanented trading place in another). Did start out in a place with over 30 once though, emphasis on "start out", the split almost became a very literal "split". :mrgreen:
Only problem is that getting any kind of character profiles for all inhabitants is just impossible.

A variation of that is "Reinforcements", ie the place has some sort of threat that it needs manpower to deal with(or they´re simply too lazy to want to go out and deal with themself).
Good if someone wants to start out with lots of fighting, diplomacy or problem solving.

One (failed) start up for a saga I tried was a Winter Revival where the remaining magi were the slightly senile last suriving covenant founder and his former apprentice turned caretaker. The incoming magi were Hermetic descendants of the other original (now dead, Twilighted or lost to Faerie) covenant founders.

Just to play devils advocate, having run one of these as well, a Chapter House covenant can have all the advantages of a Spring Covenant (the PC magi have a lot of independence, they can explore their new surroundings, make their own mark, etc) and an establish Fall Covenant (access to a solid library, senior magi to call on for help, Hermetic intrigue, etc). You just have to envision the founding covenant as wanting the Chapter House to succeed... so they send along copies of the best books they would allow junior magi access to (no mature covenant would give it's junior magi access to the really good books after all), plus enough material and political support to get a solid footing and possibly even one or two mature magi to "make sure everything is done right." Of course, if you don't like the idea that's cool... but it can work. :slight_smile:

The most important thing is:

FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT AT START-UP. Then figure out a way to justify it. There would be a thousand and one ways, so just be creative and try to create a background that will serve the saga you want to play. There is no reason, for example, that the mother-house won't be giving free-access (or at least, considerable access) to its library, that chapter-house magi won't get entangled in mother-house politics, or so on.

Instead of trying to see what a standard set-up provides you, try to figure out what you want the set-up to provide you and make it so. It's your world, everything is possible.


I completely agree.

If I knew what my players were going to want to do it would be a start....

Ask them.

That, or decide on some outer limitations.

Last time we started up a saga, the pre-liminary work took about a month, and something like 400-500 email were written.
And that was with reasonably experienced players.

Holy carp! Tbat is the FIRST thing to do! You have to discuss what the broad storylines they are interested in. Otherwise your amazingly cool covenant in a city might not appeal to them AT ALL if they want to be a fortress perched high in the alps, and Michael the Reeve, the archenemy might seem to them very bad compared from Bob the bastard, king of Granada. The saga should fit the tastes of your players. Otherwise they can feel railroaded and thrown in a setting they do not like. They might play, but the common enjoyment will be seriously handicapped.

Been there, done that mistake myself.


Yes, yes, I know that knowing your players' desires (and still more understanding them is vital. But my players at this moment are entirely hypothetical. I am lamenting more the way my last campaign died because I did not anticipate issues.

Tell you what, this requires a new thread: