In my current group we are 5 players. My aim is for 1 to 2 magi jo join any given adventure, any more and it's a special case - an adventure specifically for magi.
We also have a convention, that there must never ever be only 1 players playing a grog. Grog to grog play is usually fantastic. And we never have a problem with it, because almost all players take a grog along as well. There are always lots of situations where the magus gives his minions ordfers, and lets then carry them out while he avoids it. It could be climbing into a disgusting hole, or just munda esocial interaction which many magi either hate or suck at.
So we get lost of situations where parts of the story is grog only, or companion and grogs.
Usually things work quite well for just the non-magi. Often we have grogs like the Chairmaker and the Clothier solve the challenges. Or the two sneaky grogs are given a purse of silver by the magus, and decide to hit a tavern. We play in Rhine Trubunal, so plenty og large cities with taverns! They have a good time, spread the money around and bang! - inforation is gathered...or rather stumbled upon.
I play with @Tellus, and as he says -. combat doesn't really play a large role.
Any time an adventure is manned by a dozen armed and armoured soldiers...it had better be a dragon on the loose. If it involves normal, mundane interaction, this is bound to cause trouble.
If the SG thinks the challenge of the adventure is circumvented by the covenant sending out too many characters...well there are several solutions:
- Is the covenant now unguarded? Haha, new challenges. If the troupe never had the habit of having simultaneous events, now is the time. Don't be too hard, that's no fun. There are many other options than having a dragon burn the covenant down.
- Does the easy fix create new challenges? I try to make my challenges about making choices and having the consequences linger. Does the solution spawn new problems, does it change the balance in the environment? It should.
If the SG is worried about TPK...don't be. Grogs die occoasionaly, and so they should. It adds to the saga. Or they may be maimed, and return home to a training or advisory position. There is no shame in admitting defeat, and going home to train and build better tools to solve the issue. In fact, that is one of the things I like a lot about ArM, that time goes on and you grow.
In the face of defeat, you should turn and run. If there is something prohibiting that - Story Flaws, Personality Traits, etc - then the SG should play ball anyway. Don't kill, there is much more potential in serious injury, capture, curses etc. The consequences of giving up should not be too dire, that is the most important balancing element the SG should consider.
As for the role of combat...yes it can be epic, but should have a story-based reason. And persoanblly I prefer is there are some special situaitons or environments to make the combat more than just attack and defence rolls. Situations where other abilities and other types of non-combat magic can play a part. Situations that require Concentration rolls to magi, so casting a spell each round isn't a sure thing, or which further the use of fast-cast defences.
Example from an older saga: One magus was searching a swamp for a stork to bond with as familiar. The party encountered a creature like the Boglin from GotF, an underwater beast with many tentacles. The magus cast Bridge of Wood in order to connect the two sides of dry land, and most of the grogs tried to cross it. Naturally the Boglin attcked those grogs with tentacles, and got ahold of both grogs and the railing of the bridge. Now followed a race aginst time as the bridge was dislodged, and started to float, rotate and was pulled towards the Boglin's maw. All the while other tentacles were breaking the bridge, making it unsafe for the grogs caught on it, trying to shoot arrows at the Boglin or free their tentacle-grabbed comrades.
Action does not need to be combat, it can be a chase after a quarry or by a dangerous predator. Or a race against time, in a difficult enviromnent, against rivals you can't or shouldn't kill.