Redcaps are officially magi, but they refrain from casting their vote at Tribunals out of respect to Gifted members of the Order. What's not clear to me is whether this also implies that they should act humble and keep a low(er) profile or whether, other than voting, they can freely act as "equals" without political repercussions. For example, would it be seen as "bad form" if a Redcap regularly took part of his own initiative in Tribunal discussions - refraining from voting but publicly voicing his opinion and debating with other magi? Or would it be seen as "bad form" a Redcap claimed as his own a vis source he discovered? What about declaring a Wizard's war (a dangerous proposition for an Ungifted, but not always a suicidal one) on a Gifted magus?
I understand this may be heavily tribunal and/or saga dependent - but how about YOUR sagas?
They are tried by Guernici as under breaches of the code so in my book tt makes em full members where WizWar is concerned. Good luck to em. With a guile, planning, a small wax effigy of the target and a big slice of luck who knows - they may even succeed. Mythic Blooded Merceres with long servce, and therefor a bag of magic tricks stand a decent chance.
As for voicing opinions - Mercere House has had its ups and downs over the years and probably doesnt want some scrotum messing with its position. Like consitutional monarchy, the rights and priviledges are fine so long as they remain unused. Mercere house may want to use those rights one day and probably knows it may only get one chance before the rules are changed... SAY what you like, but vting... now thats about taboos.
Vis, well if he finds it good for em. Like any mage his charter probably says he gets it for the first harvest. Merceres are Vis whores in my world. They even engage in the sordid business of Vis usary. If they can get holdf of a vis source they are gonna take it. Odds are though it actually is required to be surrendered to the house or home covenant of the redcap.
In my most recent saga, Redcaps were very respectful of magi, but magi were also very respectful of Redcaps. Many Redcaps in my saga were very valuable sources of information, were owed great favours from power magi, and had the protection of their Gifted house-mates. Younger magi did not offend Redcaps (saga was set in border between Rhine and Transylvania). Most Redcaps had a patron (whether individual magus or a covenant).
That said, Redcaps were also very respectful of magi. They gave private counsel rather than voiced their own opinions, although senior unGifted Redcaps with decades of experience and wisdom would have their opinion sought in areas where it was known they had some special knowledge.
In Transylvania, many covenants with Redcaps and Tremere mages required that the unGifted Redcaps proxy their sigils to the Tremere exarch (as a condition of covenant membership), especially for Grand Tribunal votes.
In my current saga, I play it as a 'you wouldn't dare' issue. That is, if someone starts picking on an ungifted redcap, they should prepare to earn the enmity of the house in general. Given the necessity of the house in getting anything done, this is a problem indeed.
I currently have a Jerbiton PC with a gifted child he intends to train. He can't claim the child yet as an apprentice because he is not yet ready to train him. A Verditious (villain) from another tribunal has set his eyes on this child and filed a claim for him with his own tribunal's Quaesitors. The PC has just gotten a ruling in the PC tribunal that Members of the Order who have gifted offspring have superior claims to them regardless of their current ability to train them (excepting the rights of the Bonisagi). Now the issue is off to Durenmar and Grand Tribunal, where he expects to have the support of the whole of House Mercere, given that they have an obvious interest in such a ruling. The PC inquired to me if this was ever an issue for House Mercere. I conveyed that in the past, the threat of House retaliation (implied or overt) has kept people from really making this a problem for them at all, with few exceptions.
The threat of being effectively cut off from the order is a very real one.
In my saga the redcaps are treated a bit different from gifted magi but are able to address the other magi without showing subservience. Much like powerful church officials and nobles, the redcaps aren't really thought of as fellow magi but they do have a position of authority that the magi respect.
IMS we tend to favour an aporoach similar to what Alex described. Cases of Redcap abuse have been known, but the general result of being the last one to learn all important bits of information in your tribunal fore the next hundred years or so tend to keep people careful when stepping over redcaps: information is power. Most of the time it is way more power than level 50 rituals.
Thanks a lot folks. Ultimately my question was not "can a common magus heap some abuse on Redcaps with impunity", as it seems to have been taken by many, but "is a Redcap a good choice for a character who wants to "specialize" in (Order) politics - or will he be relegated to a subservient role because he is not a full magus?".
I guess the metaphor of church and nobility is an excellent one. If you are a member of one of the two "castes", it's not clear if you outrank a member of the other, unless there is a tremendous difference in power (e.g. Pope vs. knight or King vs. parish priest); especially since the entire caste tends to stand behind its members when they have to confront "outsiders". So, yes, a Redcap can be a good choice for specializing in politics, but with a different "slant" than that of a Gifted magus - just like the ecclesiastic career could be a great avenue to temporal power, but quite different from that of a noble.
Of course there is an order in medieval society between the 'castes' as you put it.
1: Those who pray
2: Those who fight
3: Those who work
In 'theory' a parish priest does indeed outrank a king, but we all know that is not how it is gonna pan out. It is important to remember though, that ALL secular authorities in medieval society tended to believe in their immortal soul and tended not to want to mess with God's advocate on earth, however lowly.
That said though, your point in general is true enough.
Only in his "field", i.e. the spiritual. The king, or, for that matter, even just the local landed knight, completely outranks the local parish priest in terms of temporal authority under virtually all laws of the time, save perhaps on church "property" (which under many laws is technically part of the Papal state, so under a different temporal authority).
Isn't this central to the whole conflict between Pope and Emperor? Various emperors argued that bishops and abbots wielded temporal power and thus fell under imperial authority. The Concordat of Worms (1122) was an attempt to resolve the dispute, but popes and emperors chipped away at the agreement over the subsequent years.
I once played in an Ars Magica freeform series in which, at the Grand Tribunal, there was a particular convention regarding Redcaps. The rule was that they were allowed to be anywhere, and to listen in to any conversation; if you wanted to have a private discussion, you were not allowed to ask a Redcap to leave, or to wave away one that approached - it was your responsibility to move and to find somewhere else to talk. It was an unusual twist, and gave the whole 'top-secret meeting' business an interesting added frisson.
As a general rule, I think respect can and should usually rule the day. However, given that the Order isn't homogeneous (nor is any given house or Covenant), you can expect your actual mileage to vary. Among my players snide side comments are often heard murmured about the true hermetic worth of some Ex Misc. characters - usually by way of a joke. It really depends on how you want to define your local and greater Hermetic culture. We're I playing a non-gifted Redcap, I'd use my sigil at council votes (as the covenant charter permits), but I'd also probably keep my nose out of particular business depending on the anticipated reaction of my Sodales. That is, if there were many Magi who decided to make a 'point' of the distinction of being non-gifted, I'd probably defer more. More likely, however, I'd probably not be in that situation very often. In summary, the judgment of being 'lesser' will vary from sodales to sodales, but you can probably expect most sodales not to go there... spun right, their impoliteness could backfire.
I say go ahead and relish in being the first to hear news. If it becomes a problem, it isn't difficult to arrange a reminder of how important your position really is.