I've run into this problem, I avoided the grogs being butched by having them fail a courage check to continue on through the Smokey gate of fire. My main antagonist were magi of equal or greator power (they had to face them 1 at a time). In the end the only magi that got hurt was because he got to close with no magical protection and was nearly cut in half when the giantblooded magi they were fighting realized he couldn't penetrate and pulled out his great sword instead.
Otherwise i like to work in some kinda puzzle that cant be solved with mundane means.
I've considering leaning more to the political side so they need to walk the line with adhering to the code or risk it all...
The issue with a political emphasis, in my opinion, is that we're playing in Mythic Europe... with fae, and demons, and angels and all manner of fantastic creatures, all at varying levels of frequency... I'm not saying that a good political arc or a mystery arc or a social event arc isn't worthwhile, or fun, or out of place-- by no means! But I also want to put the terrible creatures out there, I want to scare the bajeezus out of the magi, I want to have the players run that razor's edge of "Will we survive? I don't know." from time to time and finding the balance for that is what's often toughest.
Most often, it feels like I need to tailor the beasties to the magus on the particular thread... for instance, we have a Tytalus who specializes in destroying demons. When he ran into a Might 30 Giant in Scotland, his attitude was "Attack that thing? Are you crazy?" If the giant-blooded Ex Miscellanea knight-magus had been on that trip, he'd have likely said, "Attack that thing! Follow me, cowards!" Both are roughly the same time out of gauntlet with similiar experience, though I think the Tytalus may have three-ish seasons on the Hash.
The more I think about this problem I realize that what it really boils down to is a shift in paradigm for me as a Storyguide. I'm coming from a background where I just pick my terrible monsters out of a book, dare I call it a 'manual.' Ars Magica requires that I tailor my creatures with forethought to the PCs who will encounter them, and that might mean several versions of the same creature in the adventure folder, a baseline creature that deals with most of the magi in the troupe and then perhaps an augmented version as needed for the speciality magus-grog combination that encounters it. Seems like there was a reason for that quip-- "He's lucky this isn't Ars Magica."
Hmm. Are your magi's Parma that high? Mine's aren't.
Generally speaking, characters in Ars Magica die and are hurt fairly easily in my experience. Combat readied magi and companions less so, but still.
Yes, a magus that invests in and is prepared for battle is awesome in it. That seems fine with me, really. As Leonis implied, this isn't D&D. It's the grogs and rarely companions that are supposed to die off, the magi are (or should be) important enough for the plot that any threat to their life should be premeditated (and crafted to fit them) anyways.
My current magus, BTW, can't really be effective in battle. Criamon are pacifistic wusses now.
A combatant character I want to try out sometime is a Verditius knight. But not in our current saga, war and combat isn't supposed to be a major part of it.
Parmas in our game range from 6 to 1, with the average being just under 4. The Tytalus has a Parma of 6, he converted over from 4e and had spent almost every experience point he received for quite some time on improving his Parma. (Come to think of it, I might suggest he write a summa...a level 3 summa on Parma might have a little trade value)
A Parma of 4 is still tough to deal with as a SG, it's easily made it so that the Might of creatures facing those magi needs to be about 30 in order to have a chance of harming the magus. If you're playing a saga where the magi are freshly gauntleted, then I think that Parma will advance slowly. If you're making magi just three years out of gauntlet, then I think you're more likely to see Parmas of 2 to 3, just because you've got those extra 60-90 xp and can afford to put at least 10 into Parma.
My magus is entering his tenth year out of gauntlet, and he's spent probably more time in the lab than afield, but has a Driven:Personal Security flaw... his Parma is a four. The Bonisagus four years out of gauntlet still has a Parma of one, but I think he's an experience point or two from bringing it to a two.
Parmas in my games tends to stay low, but I'm yet to play a long ArM5 saga.
Training could work, but Teaching will have higher Source Quality. Absent a source, it can be Practiced. Arguably through Exposure too. I expect most Parma XP (barring books) to come from adventuring, however, in practice.
I see no reason you couldn't Practice Magic Theory, if you must increase it faster and have no teacher or book.
The principal source for both would be other's books, of course. That's an advantage of the Order - a huge collection of already-written books.
There could be books on it, it could be trained, taught or practiced just like any Ability. For a wizard to practice it they could merely cast spells on themselves that have a range of Touch; it would then have to penetrate thier own Parma, and since the spell cast would be their own, there's no chance of Warping (as long as it's a brief effect). Our covenant has a book on it called "The Order's Balm".
Exposure is typical...
Paying the visiting Magi to teach you works well too.
I think most of our Parma's range from about 3-6 now. Everyone either has or is looking for an apprentice. Due to the guidelines, you have to put your Parma around your apprentice, so its good to have a score higher than three...
Experimenting for MT Experience? The 15 you get for a success is nice, but I look at that as an award for not getting dead. I think depending on that (unless you have Flaw..of course) for your experience is suicidal.
Get a book or a teacher.
But how did the first teacher learn Magic Theory? The Arts have a straightforward, and mundane knowledges and skills we can imagine researching because they're real. Magical ones are wackier.
I'd thought of exposure to Parma, but what constitutes that? You're not supposed to get exposure if you're studying something else, right? But you're casting Parma twice a day, study or not. Logically you should be getting an xp or two every season of your post-Gauntlet life, if that works.
I guess it depends on the nature of other magi in your saga...
for ours, most magi are still secretive, isolationist, content to keep their knowledge to themselves. We rarely find a magus willing to just sit down and do some teaching, or in the cases where we have, they are either quite distant or belong to the covenant that has a strong dislike for our covenant. Our Storyguide thinks that the independent nature of most magi and the fallout of the Schism War, which isn't that long past in 1163--maybe two Hermetic generations?-- tends to make the Order more like a very uneasy fraternity of mutual safety than a happy fellowship of cooperation at that point.
Plus, we're in Stonehenge, which we're playing with a very frontier-like feel. Vis is common, books are not, there are still quite a few magical creatures and fae roaming about, and the Code's as strong as you chose to make it and have the Parma to back it up...after all, if no one finds the body, are you sure it wasn't Dav'nalleous, maybe a potent Fae lord, that Dragon on Man? Yes, there is a decent amount of politics (why, again, is such a small area like the British Isles broken into three tribunals?) as various Covenants pursue their plans, but if you want to disappear into the bush to study, they're going to have a tough time finding you. Sure, you could work out of London, or Dublin, or Edinburgh, but there's Vis in them thar hills! and you're not getting any of it in a lab in the middle of town.
We did travel to the Roman Tribunal, we have seen the kind of underhanded politics and skullduggery that can occur in that environment, how the tighter resource situation is balanced by a greater number of texts, and I'm sure that trying to find a teacher in that region is far easier-- more established, more cosmopolitan. Unfortunately, it's just not where my covenant's set.
Get a bunch of apprentices to practice thier casting at you.
That way, none of thier spells really have much of a chance of penetration, and they get some practice in finesse, or concentration, etc.
For apprentices, they are taught, typically one season. After that, it's Tractati and Summae. How did Bonisagus create the skill? I would hazard the guess that he looked at a broad section of magic, starting with what he knew about mercurian magic, and looked at the magic of the other founders, and discerned what rules and principles applied to all of them. Then he proceeded to experiment with those rules, and see what could be derived from them, and recording the results of those experiments. Then, he wrote a book, and taught the other founders what he learned.