[Let's Play] Let's Read: HR5: The Glory of Rome

MacBalance

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Please note this is my first RPG.net post. Please be gentle. I've enjoyed the Let's Reads I've seen from Leonaru, Armchair Gamer, and others, and thought I'd try one.

I think D&D is, kind of like Doctor Who, the kind of thing where people imprint on the first incarnation they have any involvement with and other versions (while arguably better) are always going to be judged by that version. For me, 2nd Edition AD&D is a very 'important' version of the game, even as I admit it suffered from a perhaps overly diverse product line.

I recently picked up The Glory of Rome from Drive-Thru RPG as some background ideas for a short campaign idea I had. As it turns out, I won’t be doing much with this book, but it is interesting in context as a weird time in TSR and 2nd Edition AD&D’s history.

I think I found three major themes on reading and reviewing this book:
  1. This is a historical book, not Rome meets D&D.
  2. Religion is a sensitive topic.
  3. These books are tool-kits, and much is left up to players and DMs.

This is one of the ‘Green Leather’ books, which was a historical-themed series, I liked a lot of the ‘leather’ books, even if I can see that they were unbalanced on a more modern reread: the Complete Book of Elves being somewhat infamous here, of course. The ‘Brown’ books tended to be setting-agnostic and had a lot of ideas to take advantage of, although the Kit system seems a bit unbalanced compared to modern systems like Prestige Classes or other ways to tweak characters. The 'Blue Leather’ such as the Castle Guide books had a historical feel, and took the tactic of starting from a historical point of view (why are historical castles the way they are?) then veering into more fanatic routes (how would a historical castle work in a world where there’s dragons, magic spells are common, and reality can be rearranged daily?). I expected this from H5: The Glory of Rome and was a bit disappointed.

I skipped these books when they were current as there was always newer, shinier stuff. Back when I was a teenager, a historical drama would lose out to metal-album-cover fantasy heroes and dragons. I’m a little broader now.

This book is a ‘Campaign Sourcebook’ as per the title page and has 95 pages of content plus a map and an ad. I’m reading this as a PDF, so I’m not sure how the map would have been included. The ad is for the ‘The Ivory Triangle’ boxed set for Dark Sun.

The author is David Pulver, who has a website at http://www3.telus.net/dlpulver/ and has written a number of books for GURPS (including the GURPS 4e core), BESM, and a range of other works for TSR, Steve Jackson Games, West End Games, and others. I was a bit surprised as his bibliography lists few other ‘historical’ projects, with a heavy roster of science-fiction themed works. I would not have been surprised if the author had been a history professor or similar. He does have a history degree, so he’s probably more qualified to discuss history than, say, me. I’m not sure how much, if any, online presence he has. I think he did an impressive job shoving so much material into a relatively low-page-count book, but I wish it had a bit more 'crunch' and suggestions on adding D&D weirdness to the historical setting.

Overall, I feel this book may have erred on the side of being ‘historical’ and left out the possibilities inherent in adding limited D&D ‘stuff’ to the historical setting. Obviously DMs can run with the material and add their own twist, but I think I would have liked more notes on campaign starters to use the material. I haven’t read any of the other Historical-series books, and I don’t know if this was the guideline for all of them.

On a weird note, the footer for the Table of Contents page reads " Table of Contents & Introduction to the Second Edition” but I’m not aware of an earlier edition of this work. Perhaps the 'Introduction..." reference is to the usual legal block under the credits that mentions Advanced uUngens & Dragons, AD&D, and Battlesystem as registered trademarks, The TSR Logo, Dungeonmaster, and DM as regular trademarks, and a general trademark notices for any characters, character names, and distinctive likenesses.

Chapter 1

Chapter 1 is an introduction, and provides a very brief overview of Rome. The ‘Using This Book’ section explains that this is, really, a stand-alone setting, albeit one that has some assembly required. Running a Rome campaign requires two major decisions be made by the DM. The first is:

DMs should make two decisions before starting a Roman campaign. First, decide whether magic and monsters exist. This book assumes they do. Its focus is on Rome as the Romans believed it to be, and their world-view was one in which magic and monsters were shadowy but very real. However, these magical elements are easily deleted by DMs who want a strictly historical campaign.
This is an interesting ‘toggle’ for a setting, and something I don’t remember seeing earlier in D&D products. Removing magic is a big change to D&D, as you lose several character classes, most races, and a lot of major ‘rewards’ such as magic items and similar. I think a lot of players might feel constrained by limited classes and races as 2nd edition didn’t have a huge number of ways to differentiate individual Human Fighters. This book does add a few, such as a rudimentary social system.

The second choice is what era, and I think this is an important thing to consider in reviewing this book. Rome’s history is long and complex, and this book doesn’t really go beyond the Empire era.

Second, choose the time period in which the campaign takes place—whether this is the Rome of the old Republic or the Empire. DMs should not be afraid to change history in the interests of a good story (or to let the PCs change it by their actions), but including historical events and personages in a scenario adds atmosphere and can be used to furnish many opportunities for exciting adventure. The chapter entitled "A Short History of Rome" provides a brief overview of Rome's history and can be useful in selecting a period. After zeroing in on the period, it can be worthwhile to read a good historical novel or consult a reference book set in that era to furnish additional details.
I do appreciate that the author admits to the limits of a single book to cover the history of Rome in a single book. However, I feel the ‘options’ could have been developed more. The magic option is presented as a binary on/off toggle, but in the actual contents there’s a lot of notes to make it more subtle. If I was working on a modern version of this I might suggest using an icon/tag based system to identify the most popular eras and indicate how content fits in to them, similar to how the Star Wars d20 books noted the various eras of that setting with different icons.


The time-period option is an interesting one, and is certainly going to change the tone of the campaign. I wonder if this would have been better communicated by differentiating the time periods better. Still, page count is limited, and the author made a good effort to cover all the entire history of Rome with notes on different eras. I feel like this could have been explored by showing how some stock characters might change with era… An early Roman soldier next to a late Republic era and a late Imperial era soldier, for example.

Moving on, there’s an excellent suggestion to actually talk to one’s players when planning a campaign! This is something I have always felt was a good idea to make sure everyone has similar expectations from a game. It especially makes sense with something as wide-open as this book’s topic.

Suggested campaign concepts include Legionaries (a military campaign), Politicians, Gladiators, Travelers (Wide range of reasons to leave Rome), Streets of Rome (street-level adventures with gangs, cults, etc.), and Rebels and Martys.

The last has some info on a major ‘sensitive issue’ of this work, which is (of course) the impact of the Christian and Jewish faiths and Rome’s history. This is a recurring topic, and I have a feeling the authors and TSR editors may have been very cautious about religious material. I think the author deserves credit for walking a line with this topic, and if he sees this I'd be interested to hear if there were any 'discussions' about that facet of the setting.

An art note: The artwork of a statue (I hope) of a wolf suckling two human babies on page 3 is slightly disturbing, if only because the wolf is depicted in a strangely stylized style and the babies look a bit demonic.

That's the first chapter. I've got rough notes on the next few chapters but I want to get some feedback before posting. Chapter 2 is a bit dry as it's an overview of centuries of history, and some of the most interesting material is the chapter covering character stuff, in my opinion. If I make it through this book and there's interest, I might take a look at some of the other Historical-series works.
 

Leonaru

Taxidermic Owlbear
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#2
Re: [Let's Play] Let's Read: H4: The Glory of Rome

Cool. We didn't have many Let's Reads of the faux-leather books so far. My thoughts abouts those books are mixed. On the one hand, they accelerated TSR's downfall, one the other hand, we got a great number of books that never might have seen the light of the day without said downfall (and the path towards it).
 

MacBalance

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#3
Re: [Let's Play] Let's Read: H4: The Glory of Rome

Something interesting I may compare and contrast is the 'Birthright' system in this book vs. the much earlier Oriental Adventures Honor system. Different settings, of course, but I feel this book's version was much cruder despite coming from a different era. On the other hand, it's also a bit less 'gamist' as the OA Honor system has some amusing wrinkles of it's own: One thing I remember is gaining a proficiency in certain 'dishonorable' ninja weapons is an immediate Honor loss as opposed to actually using them in public.
 

Davies

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#4
Re: [Let's Play] Let's Read: H4: The Glory of Rome

HR, not H. The H series was a line of "High-level" modules for 1st edition.
 

MacBalance

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Re: [Let's Play] Let's Read: H4: The Glory of Rome

HR, not H. The H series was a line of "High-level" modules for 1st edition.
You are correct. If a Mod sees this and would like to change it, it would be appreciated.

If I make it through this I kind of want to cover the Celts book in the series. They don't call it out in the book itself (other than several references, mainly for non-Roman characters) but these books were apparently intended to work as pairs somehow.
 

MacBalance

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Re: [Let's Play] Let's Read: H4: The Glory of Rome

Sorry, folks, the correct title for the thread should be HR5. I'm posting ahead a bit with Chapter 2 because it's a long chapter and I can't think of much to say.

Chapter 2: A Short History of Rome
Rome’s history is presented in an interesting fashion. The first section is “The Founding Myth” and includes common lore that ancient Romans might have been taught including the Greek legends of the Trojan War and Romulas and Remus as children condemned to death that are left to float down river, are found and cared for by a she-wolf, and grew to be the heroic founders of Rome before fighting over naming rights.

The following pages develop the history through several eras with a more ‘historical’ view than the initial mythical view. These pages do lose nearly half the page to a time-line graphic, which is a somewhat regrettable decision. but this section is very dense. This work covers the earliest era as a Roman city-state in 753 B.C. through to a fallen Rome of 476 B.C.

This chapter ends with Suggested Reading, including a mix of historical reference books, novels and other materials. I have only heard of the ‘Asterix the Gaul’ series but I have heard it is popular in Europe and it is identified here as suggested reading alongside works by Ceaser, Pliny, and Virgil.

I cut a much longer version of this post as I did not think an era-by-era summary of a summary of the history of Rome was that interesting. The jump from 'founding myths' to 'history' David Pulver did a good job summarizing what could be a semester-long college course. As I mentioned previously, if this kind of book was released today I'd hope for some sort of badging system to divide content into broad categories.

The next chapter is a bit more interesting as it covers characters, and as such has a lot of rules content. Next week!
 

The Ent

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#7
Re: [Let's Play] Let's Read: H4: The Glory of Rome

I'd disagree that the kits are in any way worse than prestige classes, if only because lots of the latter Are bad (but also because most kits Are okay. Well the Elf ones tend to badness and a couple Dwarf ones Are bad but...).

Other than that, cool thread, finely posted! :)

Only Green leather Book I got myself is the post-Rennaissance one (A Mighty Fortress), wich is fairly cool.

I recommend Asterix, the 60s-70s albums Are absolute classics!
 

DarkMoc

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#8
Re: [Let's Play] Let's Read: H4: The Glory of Rome

I'd disagree that the kits are in any way worse than prestige classes, if only because lots of the latter Are bad (but also because most kits Are okay. Well the Elf ones tend to badness and a couple Dwarf ones Are bad but...).

Other than that, cool thread, finely posted! :)

Only Green leather Book I got myself is the post-Rennaissance one (A Mighty Fortress), wich is fairly cool.

I recommend Asterix, the 60s-70s albums Are absolute classics!
They are. Growing up, my local library had almost the entire series, translated into English (along with Tintin).

I never got any of the Green Books, although I know a store that has the Greek and the Charlemagne books on the shelf.
 

The Ent

No Huorn, boy! No Huorn!
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#9
Re: [Let's Play] Let's Read: H4: The Glory of Rome

They are. Growing up, my local library had almost the entire series, translated into English (along with Tintin).

I never got any of the Green Books, although I know a store that has the Greek and the Charlemagne books on the shelf.
Cool!:)

The Charlemagne one seems pretty good for an Early Medieval/Dark Ages campaign (with neat takes on three otherwise kinda nice but bread and butter Fighter's Handbook kits - Noble W., Peasant W. and Wilderness W.) but I've never owned it; I can't tell that much about it other than it seems pretty Nice. I know Even less of the Greek Book but it has options for both Mythic (Bronze Age) and Classical era play and has a Mythic Hero kit, as far as I can remember.
 

CraftyShafty

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#10
Re: [Let's Play] Let's Read: H4: The Glory of Rome

Somehow, I entirely missed the existence of this book. This should be interesting. :)
 
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