Troupe Style Guidance

In a couple of other threads, people have said that they would like more guidance on troupe-style play.

What, specifically, do you want to see?

David, a problem I have personally seen once in 5E, and used to inflict on myself during 4th edition, was that every player had to make a Magus, Companion, and 3 grogs before a single adventure could be ever run.

In the 5E example, the player who tried that with a different group gave up. He thought he HAD to do that much work, and it was just too much for his group. Luckily, he played in my group, where I don't use the troup system at all. My PCs play Magi. Then he went back to his group and rethought how to start the Saga and had a great time.

So I think more detail about the time commitment to character creation... Perhaps examples of how different sagas work, using examples you know of? Also some groups expect a LOT of direction from their SG (my players) and some groups want a lot of input into their game with the SG.

Another point is how troupe play interacts with the power level of the game combined with time to play. I play a fast seasonal advancement, high powered game, but only have 3 to 4 hours per week to do so. I don't have time for players to do extensive character sheet updating - just doing one magus is enough. I assume they have some servants and a couple generic stated shield grogs with them when they travel, and the PCs have them run simple errands for them. Most don't even have character sheets, I just assume a rough competence bonus of 0,3,6 or 9 in depending on what the grog is.

In the other thread, I mentioned some useful things might be:

  • showing how to thread a couple of different plotlines, encouraging storyguides to alternate and maybe how to provide elements to foreshadow those stories ("put a relic with a mark of Thoth somewhere in the loot.")
  • discuss places and situations best suited to shift storyguides,
  • talk about how to divide up responsibility between multiple storyguides, maybe realms, or geography, or particular events ("I'll handle everything in Constantinople and the Levant, you handle everything in Venice and the Black Sea.")
  • talk about differing levels of multiple storyguides ("I just want to run this one arc, and see how it goes. Maybe I'll do more later if something strikes me. Are you ok with running the rest of the time?")
  • talk about setting limits for impromptu interaction, as well as what might be open or closed to interaction ("No, please don't do anything crazy with the Bishop of Tours, I have something planned.")
  • situations where troupe-style can enhance play (like moments where you want to "split the party")
  • showing how troupe style allows for concurrent but unrelated stories ("meanwhile, back at the covenant...")

With some examples, of course. Perhaps in a style similar to Hamlet's Hit Points, where he shows the breakdown of beats in the movies, one could do that with a fictitious saga.

I went and hunted down the copy of White Wolf Magazine where the style was described in further detail so I would have a better idea. I need to go back and review the details it offered, because it's been a while since I read it.

We certainly didn't do that in my latest saga. I knew that as mostly new players the one thing they would all want to do is to play their magi. All the time. So I introduced troupe play a little at a time.

By the time the magi had finished their "beardless years", the players wanted a covenant. They wanted grogs and covenfolk. So I generated the grogs at that point and started introducing them. Firstly they tagged along and carried the bags, but then I started setting the cast for certain stories (these magi and whatever grogs you want). Of course, through the course of the story the cast changed as they decided they wanted all the magi on board, but they enjoyed the grogs and they enjoyed playing them. They even enjoy the workshy labourers back at the covenant from time to time.

We just started introducing companions shortly before we started our winter break. They freed a Fir Bolg warrior from his magically-indentured service to an overbearing merchant; they found him lashed to a cart and being used as a draft animal.

They'll be other companions I'm sure when we come back in the spring. Chances are, I'll take a lead on designing those characters though and ensure that they are associated with the covenant and available for all the players to enjoy.

So in my experience, troupe play is a great concept. It allows for different combinations of characters to take part across different types of story. It gives players the opportunity to come to the fore or lurk in the background and it gives them the chance to try out different characters and take different types of action.

Troupe character generation isn't always a good thing. It can be time-consuming and confusing and it potentially puts too much effort in the way of getting on with the game. You also run the risk of grogs and companions being owned by certain players, which for me kind of goes against the grain. And the players will let you know what they want to play. I've seen it before where companion characters generated with all good intentions have been left on the shelf because... well, just because.

So I do troupe play lite. I take a lead in generating the supporting characters that I think broaden the setting and give the players new options, and then I give the players the opportunity to use those characters. That's been working for us.

+1 to Mark Lawford's comment.

In my experience, most people coming to Ars Magica for the first time are coming from another RPG system, where they have a single character who is their focus.

I have very much discovered a similar approach to what Mark does, though I do like to start each player off with a single shield grog as well; young magi can be squishy. This, I find, gives the players that initial realisation that they're going to be playing different characters.

To me, the strength of the troupe system is it allows for some fantastic PoV-style storytelling (a la Game of Thrones); switching to different characters, some of whom may not survive the saga or even the scene.

What I'd like to see in any (semi)official documentation is an example of how troupe-style play can work, and what is the best way to ease into it. On my first read of Ars Magica back in the day, I assumed the idea of having multiple SGs was integral to troupe play. It turns out it's a nice extra if the group has the player makeup to handle it, but for the vast majority of groups it's not going to be a thing.

So introducing the idea of having multiple characters, where the focus is going to be on those characters for anything between a single scene or a multi-session story arc.

I think the most important thing to include may just be a clear statement that "Troupe-style play means X." From conversations (in-person and online) and reading various versions of the rules, I've seen people thinking it means only that each player has a stable of characters to choose from or that it only means having rotating GMs or that it only means some types of characters are much more powerful/important than others. This can make it difficult to advocate for "troupe-style play" when it seems that most people who haven't actually play ArM see one piece of "troupe-style play" and think it's the whole thing.

As for myself, personally, I think I would say "Troupe-style play means that each player takes on different roles from session to session, whether that means playing a different character or being the GM instead of playing a character." with a side order of "Because you don't always play the same character, it's much less important that characters be balanced relative to each other."

On the discussion of character creation, I've always handled it gradually. Ask the players for magus and companion concepts (but not stats, at least not intially) and then present them with a story setup. "Do you want to take your magus, your companion, or neither of them for this story?" Make only the characters who are selected for that story (grog for those who choose "neither", of course) and go. The other characters are still around, of course, but they can remain unstatted concepts, defined only by their names and maybe key personality traits, until you actually play out a story where they're sufficiently involved to require full stats.

Alternately, I've also done it a little more forcefully, telling everyone "make a grog for the first story", then working up to companions and finally magi as players become more familiar with the system, but, while this seems the most logical to me (start simple and add complexity), it seems discouraged in the broader ArM community, what with all the "my players play only their magi, all the time" comments and the Arcane Connection podcast specifically saying you should start a new saga by having everyone create magi, because magic is what everyone wants to do.

Troupe style play means that you are playing the Gilmore Girls and -everyone- plays Kurt sometimes. that was obscure.

Not at all, but then I burnt the whole series to DVD for my wife when my son was just born. Excellent dialogue in those shows. (Plus, you've posted before about how you feel the covenant == Star's Hollow.)


As well as making it clear that you don't need to generate 5 PCs per player before starting play, advice on making compatible characters would be good.

For example, if your magus is a stereotypical anti-social mage, consider making a socially capable companion who can interact in social scenes with non-mage characters. If you're playing a pacifist Criamon, consider making a martial companion, so you can take part in combat scenarios.

As well as giving the player a chance to participate in more scenes, it also means you don't have to come up with reasons for the same player's mage and companion to not interact. If your mage is a Gentle Gifted Jerbiton, and your companion is a bard, why on earth do they never interact with one and other?

Other useful advice would be about tying companions to specific magi. For example, if someone is playing a Verditius, it would be great for another player to take control of their venditore (sp?).

I'm wondering if you could steal something from Fate's collaborative char gen, where you have to link every PC to at least two other PCs?

Practical advice on splitting GMing would be good as well. None of the Ars Magica games I've played in have really done much with this aspect of troupe style gaming.

One final suggestion (that could be beyond the scope of what you're looking for) - perhaps a note that not every player needs to take the same approach. It's fine for one player to focus exclusively on their magus, while someone else splits time between a mage and a companion, so long as everyone at the table is happy with this.

I had good luck in games with shared GM duties when all the people running the game would decide on a meta-plot. something that would happen to the world ( or at least their portion of it) and the happenings would effect the group. Other than that. Gms were free to do whatever plots they wanted to. This allowed for freedom for many plots but all of the GMs could further the metaplot or hint at it in their plots.

Another issue is well... The name "Companion" in of itself. Every since Firefly I get some weird looks bringing that name up. I think a different name might help.

Like Custos?

But isn't that specifically for mundanes working for the covenant? That word does get used, but in terms of "class" of a PC we get Magi, Companions, and Grogs.