After posting the basic parameters for the covenant, I just noticed that I had not really posted a design concept. I think this is a mistake, so I am doing it now. 🙂
Ars Magica 5th edition does not have a covenant book like Mistridge (3rd ed) or Triamore (4th ed). According to David Chart’s feedback from Atlas, they do not sell well and so have been vetoed by Atlas Games. So far so good. Still, I and others think that a covenant book could be a good book.
Ars Magica is quite demanding on a troupe. The creation of a covenant and immediate mundane area is quite a lot of work, so having a “launching pad” can be useful. The nearest thing that exists in 5th edition is the Curse of the Rhine Gorge saga seed in the Guardians of the Forests tribunal book. I find that saga seed great, but does not define a covenant. The idea of this book is to define one.
Ars Magica has an amazing setting, and a great magic system. Both are extremely flexible. That is great thing and a curse at the same time. New players and troupes might be really excited about starting a saga, but at the same time they can feel overwhelmed by it. A saga is a different roleplaying experience than most RPG experiences you might have out there. The sandbox approach, the long term developments, the sense of community and long standing feuds and story arcs are more easily implemented than in other settings relying in a group of adventurers. This is different, not better or worse, just different.
The main issue is that the central character of the saga is the covenant. Magi and mundanes might come and go (and if the saga is long enough, they will, to be substituted by younger magi), but the covenant remains, changes and develops as time passes, with the victories and defeats, with the decisions of the characters and the challenges the community and individuals face.
The development of a setting that can be used as a starting covenant for a troupe is a project that I find to be worthwhile. It gives a troupe the tools to build their saga without having to spend a month preparing for it. I have seen more than one saga crash before starting due to the preparation time it required from the alpha storyguide and the troupe. A pregenerated player covenant avoids this problem and (as I said) should be especially useful for a new troupe. A new troupe is likely to be still trying to imagine all the options that magic offers and to cope with the richness of the setting. The idea is to give them the ground work already done for them so they can start playing really fast.
Others are developing their own covenant versions. I know of Timothy Fergusson for sure (in his blog). And there must be others as well. This page will hold my own version of the project 🙂
I have decided for go for a “vanilla covenant”. This covenant will be exactly that: a covenant designed to be “in the right place” so most published adventures can be played in it. It will be designed around the parameters set in the core book for a standard covenant and will be medium power. This should help a troupe get a mental image of what a standard hermetic covenant is supposed to be, even if 99% of the covenants of the Order of Hermes deviate from that standard benchmark. Well, Iusto Foedere will try NOT to deviate much from it.
Concept: Between the feudal setting and the wild frontier.
I have chosen the Stonehenge tribunal as the starting one. The tribunal is a 4th edition supplement, but it contains no stats at all, and it *does* contain a lot of information on medieval society as well as politics and conflicts, so it is a good setting for a starting saga: the tribunal book (available cheap in PDF) contains all the information on the general aspects of the setting that you are going to need. As opposed to most 5th edition tribunals, it also follows what the rulebook says a tribunal is; the quirks are really minor (money and the year of the tribunal).
Stonehenge tribunal contains England and Wales. I find the frontier between both regions to be a great location for a new covenant. In the northern part of that frontier (Chestershire) we find a spot with no Hermetic covenants nearby. I consider that a plus: you can develop your saga with the Order of Hermes as a background feature, and have her creep in when you want to. You have ample space, but you are not *that* isolated anyway.
The location will ensure that it is in a “standard” feudal setting, and mildly integrated in it, but not much. It will also be near cities and social environments but also near wilderness, mountains and monsters. What does that mean? As said, Chestershire has all that.
Concept: established covenant, but not overly powerful and with easy ways to develop it further. Early summer season.
The power level will be set as “medium”. Medium is a very broad category, ranging from 300 to 1250 build points. We will go for 850-1000 points. That gives you good resources, but not overwhelmingly so.
The covenant will have been established by 2 or 3 magi that are now older (in their 60’s) and are centering more in their own research. They will have induced a group of younger magi to take care of the day to day chores of the covenant.
Concept: standard covenant in a location that can be used for most kinds of adventure.
The covenant will be the standard manor house on a hill (a hill fort location, in this case). It will not be an impregnable fortress. It will be in a fairly well travelled route, so that sorties can drop by the covenant even if you do not plan for them. The location also ensures that armed conflict in the region is possible if the players want it. Chester is nearby in case you want a more urban adventures, and other major cities are not that far either. A nearby village will be another source of stories. Obviously the environs will also contain faerie forests and magical places, as well as divine and infernal elements. I am thinking that a series of regions might connect to far away places if the players want to go that way.
The resources of the covenant will be generalist. That means that the library will cover most fields, but at low levels. The magi will be able to learn from a multiplicity of subjects, but not to high levels. Specialists will need to work to get the resources they need to improve their abilities, and that is good to generate stories. Having low level resources also ensures that player characters designed as specialists do not get stomped when the library suddenly has a book on their art of specialty at level 18, and all the members of the covenant can study it and become as good as them in that area.
And that is all for now. A standard covenant designed as a launching pad for almost any kind of adventure you want to run, and where all the published adventure materials can be used. For a starting point for new troupes I think this is a good approach to take.
PD: Just in case you were wondering, yes, I just changed the name of the covenant. I find the new one much more fitting. It means “just/regular covenant” in latin according to Google, so probably it does not 😉