Grogs in
Ars Magica

One aspect of troupe-style play in Ars Magica is the “grog.” “Grogs,” in Hermetic jargon, are the guards, watchmen, and bodyguards that work for a wizards’ covenant.

In table terms, a grog is a named NPC that players can play but not keep. They have a much higher mortality rate than the magi and companions.

A story from a friend of Mark’s and mine was one of the inspirations for the grog. This guy Scott ran a creative D&D campaign. He told us about a ferocious monster that he created to teach the cocksure players a lesson. “It tore them apart,” Scott said. Mark and I were impressed that he was willing to gun for the PCs like that. “How many characters did you kill?” I asked. “Oh, none,” he admitted.

Thus was born the concept of the “grogs.” The problem with story-oriented play is that the campaign can’t bear to lose main characters. But without the threat of death, combat can lose its drama. Grogs are a solution to that tension. They can die in combat without driving the adventure or campaign into a ditch.

Grogs serve secondary purposes as well. If you have a magus or companion that doesn’t do much in combat, you can play a grog on the side, and then you have something to do during a battle. It also works pretty well to run your own character’s bodyguard. Grogs allow the players to scale an adventure. If the adventure is tough, bring more grogs. If you don’t play a wizard or companion, you can play the whole grog contingent.

Grogs started as a way to bring the threat of death back to story-oriented campaigns, but they also serve other functions in troupe-style play.

February 2005