Where do covenants get their food from?

Hello, I'm new to the forum and I'm trying to start a new Ars Magica saga. There's something that's been bothering me when designing our covenant. Sorry to ask such a basic question; it probably has been discussed before, but I couldn't find the thread.

My question is: Where do covenants get their food from? I understand that agriculture in the middle ages was subsistency agriculture. You would need at least a small village to grow enough spare food to feed an average covenant, wouldn't you? I can see the covenant owning cattle, but I have more difficulties seeing it owning (or holding) land, since that would cause problems with mundane authorities.

So, what do covenants do? Do they buy food from surrounding villages? Is that possible? I mean, do villagers produce enough food to feed themselves, their lord and also sell to the covenant? Who would sell the food, the villagers or the lord of the village?

And what if the covenant is placed in an isolated area (like the middle of a large forest)? Would a forest produce enough food for a covenant with around 50 people?


Hello farseer, and welcome!

You got it right - it takes a lot of peasants to feed the covenant. It takes even more to keep the magi in good living conditions and purchase all the stuff they need for their arcane activities. The supplement Covenants gives six villages as the "standard" amount of peasants needed to support a covenant (that relies on agriculture exclusively for its income).

There are several options. You could decide that this is precisely how things are - the covenant receives food/taxes from several villages. This would cause problems with any king that claims lordship over this land - but not all lands are under the control of such a king. Local nobles probably don't own this land, unless granted it by a king, but must instead conquer it - but they would covet it, and view the magi as illegitimate owners.

A way around this is to have a companion or some non-player-character own the land. The magi are the real owners, but officially he is - although he lacks any real powers.

Alternatively, the covenant could obtain its food by purchasing it for other goods. In fact, a fair bit of trade is requried even if the covenant has several villages with several agricultural goods - it can't make everything. Such trade is substantive, and may again incur the interest of nobles that would wish to tax it, and of merchants that would want in. The covenant could rely on any number of goods for this - I think "magically superior animal hides/plants" is a good choice, as the covenant typically resides in a magical place.

Finally, the covenant could create its own food using Creo Herbam magic (perhaps with some Creo Animal and Muto Imaginem too). This requires the least interaction with and interference with the outside, but has the cost of costing raw vis.

What most covenants do, in the cannonic/official setting, is rely on some source of income (often indeed agriculture) in combination with trade. Each covenant has its own means of making sure the local nobles aren't trobuled by this arrangement. Most often, this is simply a matter of tradition - when the covenant has been there for hundreds of years, it seems only natural that it controls the mine, the village, or so on.

Welcome Farseer!

Y7R summed up the options and the salient considerations well.

I will note, (with trepidation) that this is an issue of some discussion, whether vis should be necessary to provide nourishment. By the rules, it is necessary, no question - the spell must be a ritual (see CrHe Guidelines, p 136). I DO NOT want to reopen that discussion here - there are several threads on these boards that have already whipped that particularly deceased equine. However, in a nutshell, here're the options if you want to houserule it, with the usual objections:1) Creo away. So long as it lasts long enough to choke it down, it's all good. (Problem: Against the Rules as Written. Also, it's been shown that an average CrHe mage can feed all of Europe with this approach. Awkward. Also, it's argued that Magically Created nutrition breaks the Limit of Creation, and an extrapolation of the Limit of Energy (both p 80). Need Vis to create anything permanent. Also, may (arguably, see p 167-8) cause Warping.)

  1. Food must last long enough to digest, at which point it's all good. This roughly means Duration > Sun. (Doesn't satisfy the hardliners above, nor those below. No support in the rules for this.)

  2. Doesn't work without vis. Ever. This is the way the rules read (page 136, Guidelines) (Destroys many in-genre conventions, and some spells. Doesn't "feel" right.)But your saga, your choice. (and if you want to see the extended arguements pro/con, someone, I'm sure, can provide the links there.)

If you're building a Spring Covenant, and one that is "newly populated" (a popular choice for new sagas), unless the magi want to negotiate this from scratch, the easiest is to create an arrangement with some lord. He is broke but has land, magi can provide wealth and need what he can provide, namely 1) location, a roof and defenses, B) ready resources, and iii) a mundane face for the operation, literally and figuratively. Maybe he has a relative who was apprenticed, maybe the "lord" is a child or doddering and the seneschal made the deal, whatever. This skirts the Code re "interfering with mundanes", but so long as they don't unbalance the region re politics, (defend, but don't aid in expansion?), it's usually acceptable.

For that "trade", magi can easily make weak fields highly productive, find/exploit mines (or played out ones), improve game/trapping, etc etc. A magical mill to grind grain? Creativity is the only limit here (and The Code, natch). The issue of the local uber-Lord taxing the product can (sometimes?) be avoided by transporting the product elsewhere, and selling it under a guise. Larger cities have a tax for all incoming items, but the price is higher- you avoid the outgoing tax of the Baron, or whatever. Many of these goals/effects can be achieved with "casting scrolls" in the library, rather than burdening one character (PC or NPC) with learning the requisite formulaic spells, altho' handy non-magi NPC "specialists" (a friendly merchant, a vintner, a mine boss, whatever) are often key parts of the solution.

With an eye to that, Companions can certainly fill those slots, but sometimes a StoryGuide (SG) "saves" points from covenant creation, and specialists or other "solutions" arrive as the need is perceived, or they are found In Game. "We need a good forester ("specialist") to provide game for the table and keep the bandits down..." OK, you've got about 40 points left over, you find one easily, and now you have a few less points before someone has to RP finding additional help...

It's a way to get the Covenant up and running at a minimum level, to allow the "real" saga to begin. (Tho' some enjoy both equally- ymmv.)

Our covenant usually sends someone out for pizza. :wink:

Sorry, couldnt resist. :laughing:

(And you became a Grand Master on such?)

Actually, that's another way - have a contract with an older, established Covenant to "deliver" what you need. They have all the problems solved, and an excess, and you have... something they need, clearly.

But I love that discussion soo much... almost as much as I love pizza!!! :blush: :smiley:

Sure! :smiley: Pizza is brain food, crucial for all those concentration rolls :wink:

Speaking for my Saga, our covenant has control of three villages, but we receive little excess food from these (still, every little helps). Our covenant also has its own fields that, with the advantage of our enchanted plow means we get good yields from them.
Our covenant also has a large herd of goats and sheep and a decent flock of chickens.
For goods outside this, we trade.

Although much of agriculture was subsisdence farming, the average covenant has magical means to vastly increase crop yields. In our case, the magical plow allows the fields to be plowed in a fraction of the time it would usually take and with far less effort, leaving our farmers free to engage in other farming activities that they usually might not have time to do so well. The plow was easy to make too.

IMS the covenant controls 1 village only, and it is NOT a village dedicated to agriculture. What it is in practical terms is the place where the foresters and woodcutters of the covenant live. We reached an agreement with the local lord to exploit some of the wild forests under his nominal control. We have foresters there, and exploit the wood and pay him a fixed cannon renegotiated every 15 years. It consists of certain ammounts of certain woods, some ammounts of pelts (and foresters in case the nobility want to go hunting in the forest) and some hard silver as well. He gets revenue that he was not geting before, and we get a place to live and resources.

We have increased our business to shipbuilding using that said wood as well, sending the wood to a city with a dock on the coast floating in the river.

We get our food from the forest and buying it from other sources. Since we do not produce our food, we might have problems feeding us in the future (potential story hook) if there is a famine in the arwea or something, but it is not a biggie for us. We pay it at quite a high price, since we tend to buy it a little far away from home, but no biggie since our buisiness is doing pretty OK right now.



Our covenant started out as poor, we only had a village of fishermen. (minor source of income)
We have negotiated forresting rights from the local lord as well now. And sometimes we cast a nice agricultural boosting ritual to have some serious plants growth.

I think every covenant needs to come up with its own answer to this question. A lot of groups make securing and maintaining the covenant's income sources into a major element of their stories. Others prefer to dwell on magical matters and leave the details of finance and logistics vague.

Edit: The reason I speak of income instead of food is that I see the medieval economy as commodity based. That is, food and money are equivalent at some level.

So my first piece of advice is to talk this over with your players and decide whether you want income to be in the foreground or the background of your stories. In my Saga, it is in the background.

The second thing I would like to say is that a Spring covenant might have trouble supporting 50 people. But does it need 50 people? In Chapter 6 of the rule book, a baseline covenant has one warrior and two servants per magus. So a covenant of 4 wizards would have only 16 people, counting the wizards.

Actually, food "is" the currency, quite often, as at this time Europe was only just shifting away from a barter economy at the peasant level, and would not universally be accepting a "coin of the realm" for quite a while.

It's far too easy for a StoryGuide to fall back on fantasy RPG practices, and have the travelling magi throw silver pennies around as they go, when in fact many villages, especially ones not on major roads, would have nowhere to spend "coins", and thus would probably be more than hesitant to accept them as payment.

"Don't care how many o' them silver pennies ya got... but that walkin' stick o' yers is mighty fancy..."

While I can mostly agree with the resume of the topic given here, I have to strongly object on the fact that Option B) if it last long enough to be digested, it's nutritous, would not have any support in the rules. It does, from the fact that that magically-created things can have effects on the mundane world that outlast the spell's duration. A magically conjured horse leaves hoofprints on the ground, a magically created fire can burn down a house.

But anyway, fully acknowledging that the topic was and is way contentious (since the rules are rather contradictory on this point, and differing views hearken to different feelings about what is the "right" amount of Hermetic magi's authonomy from mundane chores and support, different interpretations of the paradigm, and so forth) I do proceed to post the links to IMO the most comprehensive discussions of the topic


As well as the FAQ entry on this very topic:


Thank you for the thoughtful responses.

The debate about magically created food is very interesting but, after talking about it, in our saga we prefer not to be able to solve this problem as easily as that. Therefore, we won't be able to create nourishing food without vis. We don't want getting food to be one of the main foci of our saga, but it seems a good way to force the covenant to have relationships with neighbouring mundanes and the need of getting external supplies is a vulnerability that can be exploited in some stories (vulnerabilities are always interesting). Of course, that's good for a spring covenant; as the covenant grows more powerful it will likely have less mundane supplies-related problems.

Thanks also for the suggestions and examples about how food supply can be arranged.

Gribble, what's your covenant's relationship with surrounding nobility like? Why do they accept that bunch of "weird" people's holding land?

The covenant of Dua Fluminus in the Rhine Tribunal has for a long time been living supported by import from the neighboring towns. (Funds being provided by wealthy sponsors). Due to local warfare this is becoming less reliable, so in the year of our Lord 1235, the Magus Draco of house Bonisagus presented his solution: Conjuration of the Baker's gold. This is a 5th magnitude CrHe spell that produces about 1 million loaves of bread. This has the advantage of using Herbam vis (which is the only sort the covenant has a considerable surplus of). The versjon now held in Duenmar was a side-effect (major), causing a field of grain (same sort as used in the bread) to spout whereever it is cast. It is strongly advised that you have some storage in mind when the spell is cast - preferably a magical storage, as the loaves may not keep overly long othervise...

Our covenant (not Gribble's) has good ties with the local nobility, now that we helped them to power. They still don't really like all those 'funny people' though.
We've held big crop ceremonies a couple of times, which most villagers did like. (especially when they saw the increased yield the next year)
Then again, the locals are used to the nearby fairies. The earth fairies are very friendly and helpfull most of the time and our villagers often lend them their tools (which they always get back nicely cleaned).

Older covenants, or those founded by more powerful magi striking out on their own, tend to be either in isolated places or to claim a small ammount of nominally out of the way space in defiance of the local mundanes.

And I tend to favor the later. Bear in mind how unbelievably powerful magi can be in regards to conflict with mundanes. Given, they don't usually seek said conflict, yet they also have a sizable contempt for mundanes.

Arrangements/Deals with mundane lords can be bones of contention with older/prideful magi. Some of the oldest covenants are actually fortresses that dominate the local landscape are simply known to be left alone by mundane authorities... because they know better. And that really is the 'ideal' that Magi are looking for. Not all can achieve it by any means, but most wish they could.

For a factual basis I would suggest the book "The Medieval Village", likely in the covenent book list of references. By 1200 the agricultural technology was fairly well advanced and certainly surpluses existed but the transport technology was lacking. Moving food long distances by road for example would be very difficult, something which plagued armies of the day, infact something which plagued armies until around the time of Napolean.

Additionally, and most critically there were no "free" villages. So the village belongs to someones Fief, and in this case there is feudal ties required to tax the village. So if the covenent is drawing resources from the village then it owes something to the local nobility...and there is that clause in the Order of Hermes rules and regulations.

The simplist solution is that there are farmers in the grogs. With a bit of CrHe (possibly this is more MuHe) or ReHe and ReAu you can ensure bumper crops I would imagine. Now an easy way to deal with this is to get a copy of "Harn Manor 2nd Edition." This gives you rules for making up a manor and calculating surpluses and such (you don't need the Harn rules to use the Manor suplement). It also gives you some very good rules for weather effect, random events, fief development etc. This is probably more detailed then most people would like though.

However, a covenent needs several acres of crops to feed a family of 4-5 for a year. Plus you need a variety of crops for health reasons, and even the poorest person would have about an acre of land planted in a garden and for their hovel, but they would be dependant on laboring for others. A rich serf might have 10-20 acres plus additional acres under cultivation. This at the least gives you some idea what scale of agriculure you need.

No matter where you are, no matter what else you have each household has a garden, and there is likely several tens to hundreds of acres under cultivation plus forestry (and pig herding, charcoal burning, forestry), and animal pasturage (cows and sheep). The ratio of the three or four, if you include fishing, is determined by the nature of the land. However, there will be always some cleared land used for crops, some pasturage and some forests (assuming you are rural based covenent).

Also forget the 1800's north america where farm houses are spread out on huge plots of land Midieval villages are clusters of houses surrounded by the fields and pasturages.

There is no particular reason why a covenent would not have a fairly goodly number of grogs engaged in agricultural pursuits. Not doing this would actualy make the covenent stand out like a sore thumb to any mundane who saw it.

But this all depends on how realistic your setting is, also where your covenent is located plays a major role.