Friday, April 13, 2012

When In Rome, Do As The Romans Do: Invade Britain!

From time to time I flirt with the idea of running a game set in Roman times. There are a number of RPG supplements that cover this period of history, such as GURPS Imperial Rome, Mythic Vistas: Eternal Rome, The Glory of Rome for 2nd edition AD&D, Roma Imperious, and Chaosium's Rome and Cthulhu Invictus, just to name the ones I own. This is one of my favorite periods of history, but it can be pretty intimidating to run or play in because of the historical and geographical scope of the subject matter.

Zozer Games' 43 AD by Paul (Mithras) Elliott, may be a solution to that dilemma. The eponymous date is, of course, when Roman legions invaded Britain. It's ideal as a Roman campaign setting for many reasons, but the main advantage is that it provides a compact yet diverse background that can justify many types of adventures. Though player characters are most likely to play Roman legionnaires, they are not identical tin soldiers; they come from diverse backgrounds and have different personalities and capabilities. Besides fighting woad-stained tribesmen, characters engage in exploration, espionage, diplomacy, and investigations, among other exploits.

There is an abundance of reference material for the players and GM alike, so that Roman PCs and Celtic NPCs can be played with ease. A timeline of the Invasion covers the first battles in 43 AD to the rebellion of the Northern tribes the late second and early third centures AD. Though included as a resource, the GM does not need to feel constrained by it. Elliott suggests that "The whole point of roleplaying within a historical setting such as this, is to answer those 'what ifs' as well as give players the thrill of participating in historical events. A writer of historical fiction must conform to the historical record, but the GM and players have no such limitation." In other words, if the players make a major alteration to history (such as helping Boudicca win), it's   a chance to explore an alternate history. Carpe diem!

As in Elliott's other historically-based games (many of them freely available on the Zozer website), the supernatural is not neglected.  Both the Romans and the Celts used magic, so spells and rituals are included in the rules-light system. The gods and religions of both peoples are discussed in some detail.  Horror is not neglected either, with opponents such as Black Druids, Skinchangers, the Flayed Man, the Headless Killer, Fomorians, the undead Cauldron-Born, Face Feeders, and individuals such as Longinus (the Undead Centurion, the one who was present at Jesus' crucifixion), Scathach the Witch, and the Old Crone of Aberros. This distinguishes it from such works as Chaosium's Roman setting for Call of Cthulhu (Cthulhu Invictus), and replaces it with a very eerie, unique Celtic otherworld.

The game system, derived from the one Elliott used in his previous game Zenobia, is light and flexible. Character Creation covers Attributes (Might, Hits, Fate, Craft, and Learning), Cultural Origin, Character Type (such as Coward, Old Veteran, Thinker, Callous Survivor, Killer, etc.), Social Class, Events that led you to become a Legionnaire, Allies & Enemies, Background Details, and Wealth & Equipment. As befits a game depicting the exploits of Roman legionnaires, the combat system packs a lot of punch.

I really like this game, but I must admit that I will probably use Risus to run it, since I rarely run any other game system these days; I even took a stab at my own Roman/Celtic Risus setting many years ago.  There's a lot that I can use without any alteration, and much of the rest is easily adaptible. Though I've seen comparable sourcebooks for ancient Rome, there is also enough information to run Celtic adventures as well, including Celtic horror (which is alien in its own way).  Fans of Rome, the Celts, military action, and horror would mst likely find a lt they can use, no matter what campaign they want to run.  At $19.99 for a PDF, I think I got my money's worth.

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