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

MacBalance

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Chapter 9: Gazetteer of the Roman World

This is the book's final chapter, and the last opportunity to describe the world of a Roman campaign! In this chapter we get a brief overview of various regions of the world Rome would have contact with over it's existence.

To start with we have a brief discussion of traveling. The opening paragraph sets the tone:

Romans do a lot of traveling—legionaries are posted abroad, merchants and their body guards search out new markets, and (just like modern politicians) Roman senators journey on "fact-finding" missions around the Mediterranean world.
This is followed by a brief review of the impact of Roman roads on travel speeds, describing the well-made roads as the best thing available until the steam ship and railroad. As described, a horse-drawn cart is a meager 5 miles/day, while a man on foot might do 25, and a courier using frequent remounts might cover 150 miles on a punishing day and night ride.

Inns are primarily for the low-class, with the upper crust staying at friend's villas along the way. Some cities had better inns, often converted from mansions, with entertainment and services worthy of the upper class.

Moving into the meat of the chapter, I'm going to be extremely brief with the region review. I feel like I've veered into 'sumamrizing' enough and I enjoy the commentary in other Let's Read threads.

Italia or the Italian Peninsula. Prime adventure sites include Cisalpine Gaul and Sicily, both of which were eventually brought under Roman rule.

Alpine Provinces were "famous for cheese, wolves, bears, goats, forests, and brigands." That's one heck of a random encounter table. Adventurers might be interested in Raetia home to people of Etruscan-Celtic descent, and Noricum a Celtic region and eventual Roman ally and province.

Hispania or Spain and Portugal in the modern era. Known for more urban Gauls with Greek and Carthaginian colonies. There's a brief mention of the Basque region holding out for independence which is still a political issue. Known for metalwork, mining, agriculture, and dancing girls.

Ilryia and the Balkans were home to "warlike Indo-European tribes, many of whom had adopted Celtic culture" in areas such as Illyricum-Dalma, Pannonia, Moesia, and Dacia.

Greece and Macedonia are covered as one. Greece is seen as 'tired and decadent' by Rome, but also the 'Fountainhead of civilization." Conquered after the Third Punic War, Greece had a lot of influence over Roman culturem especially in the Eastern provinces. Achaea and Epirus are two Roman provinces formed from Greek lands. Macedonia, known for Alexander the Great and Thracia are two other regions around Greece that are covered. A final region is Crete, an island and pirate haven, that was crushed by Roman forces in 68 B.D.

Gallia covers France, Belgium, and parts of Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands. Home to Gauls and gradually integrated into Roman culture over centuries. Regions of note include Narbonensis, Lugdunensis, Aquitania, Belgica, Germania Superior and Germania Inferior. Basically all barbarian states that were slowly enlightened by Rome to various degrees.

Egypt predated Rome by quite a bit. Egypt was already heavily influenced by the Greeks when they came into contact with Rome and had a major part to play during the Civil Wars. Once under Roman rule, the government was a 'Greco-Roman Bureaucracy' that collected taxes but mostly stayed out of affairs. The Emperor was thought to be an absentee pharaoh and commoners saw little difference from previous eras.

Africa focuses on North Africa where Rome had dealings with several other civilizations including the Carthaginians, Phoenicians, and Greeks (presumably in colonies).Carthage was infamously destroyed by Rome in the Punic Wars and rebuilt later. The Africa Province was threatened by the Numidian civilization. As a note the interior of Africa is discussed as an option for adventuring 'off the known map' as it were.

Asia Minor is home to the Asia Province which was "bequeathed to Rome in 133 B.C. by an heirless king." Many peasants worshiped Cybele and many Greco-Roman cities were built. Bithynia et Pontus was ruled by a Persian-Iranian feudal noblity. Ally, then enemy, of Rome. Cappadocia, Cilicia, Lycia, Pamphylia, Galatia, and Armenia are name-checked, but with few details.

The Middle East is covered as Ptolemy's conquests of the Later Republican period. This includes Syria, which is the home of the Mithraic cultm as wek as Palestine or the Kingdom of Judea, the home of Christianity and someplace that's still controversial. "Romanes eunt domus" indeed! Arabaia... Sand and nomads.

Brittania was visited by Caesar, then conquered in 43 A.D. The capital of Roman Britain was Colchester, but the largest city was Londinium. Class distinctions between rural Celtic people and urban Romanized people were common. Regions of note include Wales (Wales), Caledonia (Scotland), and Hibernia (Ireland).

Germania is noted as home to tribes that scared Romans greatly. This eventually led to Germans being hired to protect Rome from other invaders (the Goths), which led to German tribes conquering Rome.

Asia covers the kingdom of Perganum, which covers Turkey and several islands in the Adriatic sea. Heavily targeted for tax collection.

The Kingdoms of Parthia were located where now is Iran, parts of Armenia, and the ancient kingdom of Mesopotamia. Acted as a gatekeeper to the Far East for trade and was culturally Oriental with a bit of Greece. Fought with Rome but eventually feel as the Partian Dynast crumbled.

Scythia is described as a "mysterious northern kingdom inhabited by pastoral nomads who worshiped a Great Goddess" but not much mroe is discussed as the text ends rather abruptly. In fact it's almost like someone doing one of those jokes on-line about being attacked mid=post by a horrible creature or such. The paragraph, and the entire book, just sort of ends:

This was a mysterious northern kingdom inhabited by pastoral nomads who worshiped a Great
Goddess. Its people (like the Parthians) were known as horseman, archers, and metalworkersj51
(Note: PDF from DTRPG. May be different in the printed version, but the 'metalworkersj51' is what the text looks like, not an OCR glitch!)

And that's it. Literally the last page, other than the ad (Dark Sun: The Ivory Triangle as discussed earlier) and the Map (which I guess I 'understand' a bit better after the last chapter.

Final Review

I feel like this book's author, David Pulver, made a herculean effort to cover centuries of Roman history, culture, and technology in a very limited page count. If you're not tied to AD&D 2nd Edition, this book's value is a bit less, and you might be better off looking for other works. I did a quick search and it looks like Steve Jackson Games did a 3rd edition GURPS book on Rome, but specifically Imperial Rome, so that may not be a better option.

Mechanics are workable, and this is most definitely the start for a campaign, not a complete campaign setting. A DM will need to do a lot to make it their own and make something they can use out of it.

On the other hand, that means it's ready to be used as a toolkit. If the major campaign settings that TSR produced in this era were prepared meals from a good restaurant, this is more like a 'meal starter' bag of vegetables that could be used in a stir-fry, but it's up to the players and DM to provide the meat (the details). it's certainly not a bad book, just a bit dry at times.

I do wonder if my speculation about this book's 'editorial concerns' were true. Was this book written with an editorial mandate to avoid controversy about religious issues, and di that cause the concept to change any?

I do plan to do a follow-up and cover HR-3: Celts in a week or two. Of note, it's very different from this book as far as I can tell. I get the feeling that despite these being marketed as being 'paired' the authors had little contact, so there's only the tiniest bit of overlap between the two. Like this book, the Celts book covers a large span of history.

Thank you all for reading. This has been a fun creative exercise for me (even if it is critiquing someone else's work) and I hope it brought up some interesting ideas in others. I am (as is probably obvious) not an expert on history, and it's interesting to see the things that were either simplified, wrong, or have been revised since this book was written. Thanks again for your time reading this!
 

David L. Pulver

Retired User
Chapter 9: Gazetteer of the Roman World

I do wonder if my speculation about this book's 'editorial concerns' were true. Was this book written with an editorial mandate to avoid controversy about religious issues, and did that cause the concept to change any?


Thank you all for reading. This has been a fun creative exercise for me (even if it is critiquing someone else's work) and I hope it brought up some interesting ideas in others. I am (as is probably obvious) not an expert on history, and it's interesting to see the things that were either simplified, wrong, or have been revised since this book was written. Thanks again for your time reading this!
I very much enjoyed reading your in-depth critique of the book (and the commentary). Thanks!

Regarding your speculations:

* The glitch you noticed in the last sentence of the PDF is also in the printed book. It seems to have been a production error; I don't think much is missing - maybe only the ending punctuation.

* The biggest difficulty with the book was the vast scope of Rome and its changes over time, even when limited to the period covered by the book (Republic and early to mid Empire). One thing I
remember wanting to include that wasn't in the book was more details on the later version of Roman auxilia. The book gives the impression that most auxiliary troops were contingents
of foreign or subject troops, but while that was often the case, by the Imperial period the auxilia had become specific, formal units of troops, somewhat more mobile and lightly equipped. Unfortunately
space constraints prevented that distinction from being properly dealt with.

* "I would not be surprised if the Caladrius was not the primary author's work and was added to increase the 'game' value" - Nah. It just happened to be the only monster native to historical
Rome that didn't already have a AD&D equivalent. I'd have liked to include more, but the mandate for the book, as I understood it, was not to add anything that wasn't believed to exist by Romans.
(I think the cost in GP was just an error.)

* Your mention of the pre-internet research is on the mark. For this book, I spent some $300 (in 1990s dollars) buying books in the process of researching Glory of Rome - mostly at university book stores
- in addition to many hours of digging in libraries. (I was somewhat familiar with Rome, having taking several Classics courses and studied Latin at university, but I needed to immerse myself in Roman social history.) Only a few
years later, for a GURPS project of equivalent scope, I was able to do almost all my research on the internet, and services like the then-new Amazon made it much easier to find more specialized work.

* TSR editorial did indeed ask me to be very cautious regarding Jewish and Christian religious issues in the book, but sent guidelines about what they wanted and didn't want before
I began work on the project so I didn't have to change anything.

* (I did encounter a few issues in another project for TSR when adapting Marvel horror characters for a Marvel Superheroes role playing supplement. For example, TSR
forbade me to use the word "Blood" in the title of an adventure with vampires - it violated their internal code patterned on the old comic code authority
one - and insisted that the writeup of Marvel hero Daimon Hellstrom not include his title "Son of Satan" even though that was the name Marvel used. They were good to work with otherwise,
though, and were always willing to discuss compromises or workarounds when something bumped up against their internal guidelines.)

-David Pulver
 

MacBalance

Registered User
Validated User
Thank you greatly for the info!

I can definitely see that the page count caused a number of decisions to be made as to how certain content was covered. I think from memory the historical GURPS books of a similar era were at least twice the page count, and look to be a bit more focused. (I took a quick look and saw there's a GURPS: Imperial Rome book, for example.)

I'm glad to hear that the editorial oversight on religious issues was usually reasonable. I think I had heard elsewhere that TSR modeled its own stance after the comics code and find it interesting how the early materials were very loose on content, then tightened up as the game got more widespread, then the late 90s material loosened up, but was still generally a bit more reserved than material from companies like White Wolf or similar from the era. Some of this may just be the burden of being the big name for a small niche, though... I feel Nintendo has carried a similar weight because they're the big name and all video games are Nintendo to a certain subset of the population, so they have to deal with concerns about immoral material in games that aren't even theirs.

One final question if you have a moment: Did you have any interaction with Graeme Davis, who wrote HR3 Celts (which is often paired with this book)? I plan to cover that in a week or two and it looks like the writing style/game paradigms are quite different.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
GURPS Imperial Rome is only 32 pages longer than HR5. And Graeme Davis also wrote a bunch of well-regarded GURPS books -- Middle Ages I (there isn't a II), Faerie, and Vikings.

This was a fun thread. And it's always interesting when the author stops by, as well.
 
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DocShoveller

both a doctor and a fox
Validated User
Thank you greatly for the info!

I can definitely see that the page count caused a number of decisions to be made as to how certain content was covered. I think from memory the historical GURPS books of a similar era were at least twice the page count, and look to be a bit more focused. (I took a quick look and saw there's a GURPS: Imperial Rome book, for example.)
GURPS Imperial Rome (by C.J. Carella, I think) takes a different tack to HR5 - rather than try and discuss the Romans generally, it's unashamedly a book about Rome during the period of the 'four good emperors', on the grounds that said period best reflects what people think of when someone mentions 'the Roman Empire'.
 

MacBalance

Registered User
Validated User
GURPS Imperial Rome (by C.J. Carella, I think) takes a different tack to HR5 - rather than try and discuss the Romans generally, it's unashamedly a book about Rome during the period of the 'four good emperors', on the grounds that said period best reflects what people think of when someone mentions 'the Roman Empire'.
The Celts book (which i want to start working up, maybe this weekend if I don't end up doing taxes...) covers even more years, and has several 'branches' of the culture to cover! Again, no insult intended to the author, but I expect it to be a bit rough in sections.
 

David L. Pulver

Retired User
Thank you greatly for the info!

One final question if you have a moment: Did you have any interaction with Graeme Davis, who wrote HR3 Celts (which is often paired with this book)? I plan to cover that in a week or two and it looks like the writing style/game paradigms are quite different.
I had no interaction with Graeme Davis. I remember thinking TSR editorial at the time were very business-focused, and (unlike some other
companies) did not seem to want to encourage any chit-chat between freelancers (or editors) outside of an immediate project. Unlike some companies,
I had no input in what I wanted to write - it was "we have assignment x for you to write" and up to me to take it or leave it. Paid well, but not very warm.
Mind you, this was in the last few years of TSR's independent existence, so I'm sure there were a lot of stresses that the staff were dealing with.
 
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