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

Gen. Lee

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#21
Subscribing. I didn't get this book until the very end of the 2e era, and have yet to run anything with it. I didn't really develop an interest in Roman history until about 1997, by which time my AD&D tastes had moved away from the HR books. Later on, when we were playing a GURPS/Space:1889/Buffy the Vampire Slayer game, I had the idea of running a short 'Slayer in Rome' idea, but never ran it.

Now that my son and his friends are taking high school Latin, I should dangle this book in front of him....
 

MacBalance

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Chapter 3

Chapter 3 is titled Characters and is a bit ‘meatier’ than the preceding chapters.The rules open with a section titled “What is a Roman?” that provides some guidelines on what character concepts should be created by these rules, and which should use the more general rules.If your character is a Roman, you might actually be a an immigrant or descendant of immigrants (voluntary or otherwise) but all ‘Romans’ get to roll on a ‘Birthright Table’ albeit with some limitations by background.

There’s no real concern about ‘balance’ with these rules. A power-gamer told they are playing in a Rome campaign definitely wants to be a Roman of Roman birth so as to get the best chance to pick up some good benefits like Inheritance or Senatorial Rank. I think this would seem very frustrating to players used to games that try to balance various social castes by weighing down the upper classes with responsibilities or other drawbacks.

As an aside, the Birthright rules seem bit cruder and less-defined than the family and honor rules in the earlier Oriental Adventures rulebook for 1st edition. This may have been a change of design paradigm, as I feel the 2nd edition historical books like these tried to avoid adding ‘gamey’ rules content in favor of things that could be historically defended, at least. Also, it should be said that Oriental Adventures is pretty explicitly ‘Asian D&D’ with a mix of influences including historical sources as much as movies and other fiction.

Races are harshly limited by default. There’s a kinda-sorta loop-hole that might allow a few races from the Complete Book of Humanoids for ‘centaurs, fauns, and other sylvan races’ but the standard Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, etc. have no place here. (The Complete Book of Humanoids is not explicitly mentioned here and came out int he same year, so this reference might have been unintentional. Something else for GMs that want to run a more fantastic version, I guess.)

This is one place where I found the book frustrating. I was expecting “Mythic Rome” as a blend of D&D tropes with a Roman history and culture similar to the 1st edition Oriental Adventueres, but instead the book presents a very historical game, albeit with some options for magic in later sections. I think I was hoping for more content along the lines of “dwarves could be used as roman citizens, natives of specific cities” instead of blanket prohibitions. Of course, these books (as with most of the ‘leather’ books) are definitely intended as toolkits, so the classic D&D races could be re-added by a DM making their own Rome inspired setting, but I was disappointed that there weren’t any real tips on how to do so.

Birthright is a big section with the first real ‘Rules’ content, the Birthright Table. The table’s presentation is a bit poor, specifically because it should probably be labeled the ‘Male Birthright Table’ as female characters are covered by a special section much further along. I don’t think this is the author’s bias, but a reflection of the history, but adding an extra column for the ladies mgith have helped make things more interesting.

The table is a pretty basic D20 table with a twist in that certain results grant a benefit followed by another roll on the table with a d12 to avoid the non-social-class stuff at the bottom of the table. Characters get one roll and there’s no real way to make the results more favorable. The DM is called out as being allowed to assign birthright if it makes the campaign work better.

The ‘social class’ results (1-13) range from Senatorial Rank to No Birthright. Player Characters can’t start as a full Senator, but we’re pointed to the "Cursus Honorium” or “Road of Honor” to become one. This is a definite campaign seed, and discussed later. Being nearly a Senator does have benefits, including a townhouse in Rome and holdings in the country worth 250,000 denarii. (Keep the use of Denarii in mind, the book covers Roman currency down the road.) They get some free monthly income (over 5,000 denarii!) from this property, and get 1d3 ‘positive’ connections among the higher social classes, and 1d3 ‘negative’ rivals.

The other ‘social class’ Birthrights go downward from the lofty heights. At the Senatorial Family level (a step lower, with a living patriarch as a senator) we see a still-impressive allowance. The poor NPC Senator patriarch of the family is marked for death, though, with a 10% annual chance of dying to let his children move up.

Overall, I wonder if a more ‘focused’ campaign might have built the ‘family’ around a sort of meta-character concept and had player characters concepts tie into it. The later Menzoberanzan box set did this, as I remember, with the expectation that player character Drow would be part of a not-too-evil minor house.

Back to Rome, at many levels the DM will need to create multiple NPCs. I think in reality if I ever ran this I’d just start with a list of names and positions, and fill in details as necessary. This section has a range of notes on expectations and duties of each social class.

Nearing the bottom of the social ladder is the Military Family, representing the families of career soldiers. PCs with this birthright get a bonus to reactions from their father’s legion, but it turns into a minus if they’re cowardly. Should the PC with this background join the military, they’ll be fast-tracked for officer material. Also, free weapons!

The social class options are interesting, but tend to be a bit fuzzy or at least ‘background.’ It really depends on the campaign, though. A DM who likes to set up political situations could do a lot. There's a lot of ways between the Birthright rules and the Kits we'll be covering soon to really stack Reaction Modifiers.

I definitely wonder if a more forceful consideration of the concept of a single Senator-level ‘house’ that all/most PCs are part of would have been a good sue of the space. A Senatorial house could accommodate PCs from the main house, as well as lower-ranking (Equestrian through commoner) families with ties to it. Saves the DM a lot of work, and gives some interesting plot-hooks and a common focus.

The non-social-class options are more interesting in my mind. PCs may gain an inheritance (a family business, with monthly income), a Favor (from a Senator or even the Emperor), Felix (see below), Handsome (which specifically states that the PC is believed to be attractive, but stupid and/or sleazy), Family Scandal, Ugly, or an Arranged Marriage (incoming in 1d8 months. I see a shotgun wedding joke here…). These are generally little bonuses, but the Felix option (described as meaning “happy in fortune” bears some discussion as it provides a massive bonus: The PC selects one die-type, and always gets a +1 to all die rolls with that die type! This seems like a massive bonus, especially in an era before typing bonuses was a ‘thing.’ There’s a drawback, as cast omens count double, but the positive omens have twice the effect, too, so…

Character Classes

This section starts with a table of the allowed character classes. Sorry, there are no Roman Rangers, Mages, Psionicists, or Bards. Paladins, Specialist Mages, and Druids require DM approval.

Moving on, the Warrior classes are discussed. Warriors are common, and could represent a wide variety of adventurer-type characters.

Fighters get followers instead of Strongholds or Castles (was hitting a level and getting a stronghold even a thing in 2nd edition?) which could be pretty impressive. Roll well and you could get a 7th level Fighter (gladiator) in command of 40 infantry, 20 cavalry, and 20 higher-level infantry.

The first kit of the book is the Roman Legionary kit. Like most 2nd edition kits, this balances mechanical bonuses with role-playing drawbacks. This kit gives relatively minor bonuses and has potentially crippling drawbacks. The character gets some skills and such, but if they’re normal adventurer-age they are probably in active service and as such don’t have the freedom to go adventuring much. An older character might be considered a veteran and gets a small pension and some land.

This is a perfectly good character for a military campaign, but I worry a party would end up with 50% of the players using this Kit in such a campaign.

Next is the Military Tribune, which is described as a senior staff officer elected from the nobles to keep an eye on the military. This is essentially the Roman Legionary for the noble classes, but does get a reaction bonus and the ability (do they mean in the legal sense?) to command ordinary legionaries. Military Tribunes are part of the military but the text mentions that this would sometimes only be a role assigned for a couple years. More pressing (to PCs) is a need for a Military Tribune to spend 1,250 a month partying when they're not on campaign or go from a positive to a negative reaction bonus. They don’t get any special income for this, but then again they must be a noble, so they likely have some income.

This is another good Kit for military campaigns, and could be useful for ex-military ‘with contacts’ player character concepts.

Roman Politician” seems like a weird Kit to be fighter-specific, and I don’t see much that really makes it something only a Fighter would do. A nice touch is the text does suggest that a PC might be a ‘crusading advocate’ focused on exposing corruption or similar. This sounds like a good idea to give PCs with a political background something to do that’s a pretty clear objective and could lead to adventure. As a drawback, the Roman Politician must be a noble, must know their way around a Gladius (short sword) and be well-educated: this kit requires 10 Nonweapon Proficiency slots, two of which are double-slotted! Also, like the Military Tribune, the character must spend money on parting, but in this case it’s 5,000 denarii! Failure to maintain this lifestyle again flips a reaction bonus.

The text specifically states that “The PC should purchase a toga.” whihc amused me for some reason.

I could see the ‘party leader’ PC using this Kit in a Rome campaign, as it’s got a lot of plot hooks.

The Roman Politician and Tribune are very similar, and both primarily provide a reaction bonus in return for spending money. Reaction bonuses are a very common benefit in this work. There’s a few oddities that may be related to editing: The Politician specifically mentions the need to see a money-lender if they can’t pay their 5,000 party expenses. I could see some GMs treating this as an actual ruling. I wonder if this was cut from the Tribune for space.

Moving to a more interesting kit, we have the Gladiator. The Rome Gladiator is a Fighter kit instead of the class it is in Dark Sun, and I’d be willing to bet there’s at least one other TSR-published Gladiator kit in another book. Also, consider how many d20-era Gladiator Prestige Classes were published. This is a well-worn archetype that has been represented in RPGs for years, although this variant tries to stick to a more historical and less fantastic version.

Gladiators of Rome cannot be nobles, although there’s a note that this could change if the Emperor is mad. An interesting twist is that the Gladiator must pick from seven different Gladiatorial fighting styles, which give out unique weapon non-weapon proficiency requirements. Free specialization in a weapon their class uses is a nice benefit. Note that ‘class’ is the term for fighting style used in the text. A minor quibble, but D&D has a long history of overloading terminology, and this is another example.

The major drawback for the gladiator is, like the military-themed Kits above, a lost of freedom. The text mentions that even free gladiators have fights as part of their contract. Also, paparazzi. A stated drawback of being a gladiator is fans all over the place who recognize the Fighter.

Gladiators should also avoid getting uppity or considering social advancement, as:

And, while much in demand, gladiators were socially despised as doomed, debased by Fortune, and without dignity! No matter how famous he might be in the arena, a gladiator will find it almost impossible to rise beyond his class.
Not a bad kit, though. I could see a PC Gladiator requiring some work to travel, but for near-Rome adventures there’s enough freedom to have fun, the drawback of fame can be exploited, and the Gladiatorial Games themselves are a source of plot-fun. With my concept of having the PCs all represent a single Senatorial family, contracted (or even enslaved) Gladiators could be useful as 'muscle' for the group's plots.

Our next Kit is the Charioteer, which is similar to the Gladiator in many ways and specifically represents an ‘athlete’ Charioteer over a military one. Again, denied to nobles. They must learn to sue a whip and a dagger, which are likely not the favorite weapon option for fighters, and they don’t get much for being a charioteer other than a reaction bonus if an NPC is fond of the Charioteer’s “Team.” Like the Gladiator, expected to perform and a public figure.

The last Fighter Kit discussed is the Street Fighter, which gets the ability to do Shor-yu-kens and Sonic Booms if the player can figure out the right half-circle-attack. Wait, sorry, wrong game.

The Street Fighter is basically another expression of the ‘thug’ archetype common to most settings. This kit is very wide open, with mentions of it being usable for mercenaries, pirates, private detectives, enforces, and more. It’s non-noble and the primary bonus is a reaction roll bonus from people in the character’s neighborhood. This character doesn’t need to throw parties every month to keep the bonus, but noble types always have a negative reaction. The other ability is summoning 1d3 gang members per level of the Street Fighter. These are limited troops with clubs and knives that won’t travel far or fight against overwhelming odds.

Moving on from the Fighter, we have the Paladin. The Paladin description has some more of this book’s sometimes nervous discussion of religion.Christian Paladins are unlikely, but Mithras Paladins are possible in the later eras and must pass tests from Mithras to advance in level, which will be discussed under Clerics.

The text specifically says that the Romans didn’t have the concept of a "fervently religious warrior having special powers and abilities” until the lat Empire era. This seems like another missed opportunity,as Paladins of Jupiter and some other members of the Roman pantheon might be an interesting idea to explore.

While banned from the setting, the Ranger[/B ]is written up here in a single paragraph. It turns out there are two ways to play a Ranger-like character in Rome. The first is to be a ‘military scout’ or similar by taking the Legionary kit and adding Tracking or Hunting proficiencies, which means it’s a fighter who knows some outdoorsy stuff. The more interesting option is allowed if the Celts sourcebook is in use, in which case a Celtic ranger could be used for a character that servers as auxiliary scouts to the military.

As a side note, I’ve read online that these historical ‘green leather’ books were intended as pairs in some cases, and this book is paired with the Celts book, thus the frequent cross-references. If there’s interest, maybe I’ll pick that up and give it a similar treatment.

There is a common feel I got from the book, and wish was more explicit and supported: The baseline Rome setting is restrictive, but as it’s not going to be as supported as a major setting like Dragonlance, or Dark Sun, or Spelljammer, it’s perfectly fine to break from the text. Not that it isn’t true in any RPG, but these books are more ‘toolboxes’ than most packaged settings.

Moving on we have another class that technically doesn’t exist in Rome, the Wizard. There’s a later chapter on ‘Magic and Religion” but the gist is that Rome magic (if it exists) is generally not flashy like Fireballs or such, but more subtle. The two kits here give two options to show this.

The first Wizard kit is the Roman Witch, which is actually an option for women! Noble witches keep it secret, but do exist. They are a specialist in lesser divination and their choice of either necromancy or alteration.

The Fighter kits were a bit underwhelming as most come down to a few special-circumstances Reaction bonuses. The Roman Witch is a bit different and supplies some interesting abilities and hindrances. 3rd level witches get the Evil Eye power, which allows casting a limited version of the 6th level Eyebite spell to fear or sicken an opponent. At 7th, the Necromantic Witch adds Speak with the Dead once per day, while Alteration Witches steal the Druid’s shape change ability twice per day “once each into a normal mammal and a bird.”

They pay for these abilities, and pay well. First, progressing past 9th level requires double XP! Additionally, they can never learn evocation spells, and most Romans have a -2 reaction penalty (you knew they’d be back, didn’t you?) dealing with a known Witch.

The more interesting drawback, though is that knots upon the Witch’s person stop spells. This includes casting and cancels spells with a duration, even on other targets! The Witch is thus only allowed simple clothing let a knot cause everything to stop working. I like drawbacks like this, as they add a lot of personality and are at least a lip-service to the myths and legends that inspired the material.

I feel the Roman Witch is a serviceable player character kit. It’s also one of the few in the book that are really made with women characters in mind. The idea that a noble woman might secretly be a Roman Witch using spells to act behind the scenes in politics is a great idea, but a commoner witch could work as well.

The other Wizard kit is the Philosopher-Mage. I like that the description calls out that this is a common role for those that travel to Rome from other civilizations such as Greece, Egypt, and Persia. They may or may not be nobles, but can often get invites to noble parties. They are wizards with the schools of Abjuration and Greater Divination.

The ‘adventuring’ benefit to this Kit is the ability to Interpret Omens once per week, which can give some random benefits and will be discussed later. The social benefits include being invited to be a ‘resident philosopher’ by nobles on a positive reaction roll which provides free room and board, as well as a small stipend, in return for being the crazy smart guy at dinner parties (which apparently occur every three days). There’s also a Reaction Bonus, which in this case is to others from the specific philosophical school the character follows.

The major drawback is a reaction bonus from opposing philosophical schools, as well as a penalty ‘in non-intellectual circles’ which might be the only thing keeping that ‘resident philosopher’ thing in check.

This could be a fun Kit for a character, I think. it's still a wizard, and the archetype of the well-educated 'advisor' from a distant nation seems to be pretty common in fiction.

Next we have the Rogue, which along with the Fighter is going to handle a definite majority of characters. Rogues are found in all social classes, but rarer among nobles. Roman law is briefly discussed, which mentions it’s a great time for thieves as there’s not a lot of anti-theft legislation!

Like the Fighter, we have a modified table for followers. Rogues get Thieves, Fighters (using the Street Fighter Kit described earlier), and members of the new Rogue kit, the Charlatan-Thief.

The Charlatan-Thief is an option for those that set the ‘Magic’ toggle to off, or at least don’t want a lot of magic around. It’s basically a stage-magician/con-man. Many are described as dirty foreigners, and they may also impersonate mystical healers as well as wizards.

The Charlatan-Healer gets a bonus to read magic scrolls, which is technically useless if the DM isn't allowing any magic.

A large paragraph describes the mechanics of ‘faking’ spells for the Charlatan-Thief. Essentially, the DM has a call on what spells can be allowed, and the character makes a Spellcraft check to see how well they pull off the trick. It’s a little weird system as it makes the check into a sort of closest-without-going-over rule. For example, if a Charlatan-Thief tries a faith-healing trick, they make a Spellcraft ad might need to be below a 16 for it. They do, and anyone with a wisdom less than what the Charlatan-Thief rolled is fooled. So if the target is a 16, you want to roll the target or as close to it as possible.

It’s an interesting idea, but there’s not a lot of “why" to it, and I wonder if it’s an ability that would not be used much after 1st level or so. It’s not completely clear, but I assume that the tricks are just that and there’s no effects from this ‘magic.’

A neat option does exist for the Charlatan-Thief, which is the Charlatan-Wizard. This has a lot of interesting potentials it’s a variant thief-wizard in which to thief eventually leads ‘true’ magic and switches to Wizard. I think this is a great idea for a low-magic campaign and could be a lot of fun as long as the DM doesn’t drag out the changeover to Wizard. I feel like I'd play a charlatan-thief, especially if I could take the charlatan-wizard option down the road, but I doubt I'd use the 'Charlatan ability often.

Bards are given one paragraph much like Rangers. In short, the author felt that the Bardic mix of magical, rogue, and scholarly abilities is ahistorical. Use a rogue with appropriate non weapon proficiencies instead.

Next up is Priest Characters!

The text mentions Rome being pretty tolerant of other religions. This could be interesting, as the standard D&D world leans to being pretty tolerant as well.

The first Priest Kit is ‘Priest of the State Religion’ which is a somewhat less-than-inspiring name. Amazingly, no Reaction modifiers are part of this Kit! This is barely a Kit at all, as it has very minor benefits or drawbacks, most of which depend on the specific deity, which is not presented here.

Unfortunately deity information is not in this book, although some is covered later. The detailed info for a cleric (such as alignment, weapon restrictions, spheres of spells, etc.) requires Legends and Lore, which I don’t have. :(

This is pretty much the normal Cleric.

The Priest of the Mysteries Kit is a bit more interesting, at least in name. Mystery cults come up often in discussion of Rome as secret or semi-secret faiths.This kit is mentioned as being open to women, at least for some faiths.

Two drawbacks are a need to perform certain ceremonies such as leading processions, etc.and a small reaction penalty for government officials if the mystery cult is currently being pressured by the government. Several major deities are covered:
Isis, borrowed from Egypt. Priests are multi-class wizard-priests with a required wizard specialization in necromancy or alteration and a maximum wizard level of 9.
Cybele, the Magna Mater from Asia Minor. Male priests are eunuchs, but priests and priestesses can enter a Frenzy state and ignore pain and fear at will. Also, all priests must know how to dance.
Ceres, of the fertile earth. Priests have a required yearly pilgrimage but get some extra plant/nature spells. 20th level priests of Ceres can craft personal-use-only Potions of Longevity.
Bacchis, fond of wine and fertility. Must know Brewing, and gets Neutralize Poison as a bonus 1st level spell. The more interesting benefit comes at level 10, when the priest's constitution is raised to 18!

Overall, this section (and the above two Kits) is a bit unclear to me. Overall, I think the gist is that there’s a lot of Roman Gods, and some are part of state religion and some are less in-favor and considered part of the mystery cults along with some of the deities ‘borrowed’ from other cultures. There’s also more ‘outside’ faiths, such as out next Kit, the Mithraic Priest Kit.

The Mithraic Priest Kit is for the priests of the Persian Mithras. As noted above, Mithras is a good fit for the D&D Paladin, as it’s a soldier-god who fights the forces of evil and darkness. The Kit is a pretty ‘divergent’ priest from the standard with proficiencies in Gladius, Spatha, and Hast (Short sword, long sword, and spear respectively) so none of the old ‘no sharp weapons’ stuff. They also get a Reaction bonus from Mithras worshipers. However, as a hindrance Mithraic Priests (and Paladins) must “must undergo tests and ordeals of courage and endurance as they go up in level” which is represented by a Constitution check or can be role-played. There’s no notes as to what the tests would entail, so DMs and players would need to research this. Failing a test means going back to 500 XP below the amount required to level, which is a little ugly. It’s fine for a high-level character where that might be a couple monsters, but for a low level character that could mean a lot.

Mithraic Priests need to be pretty tough, with stat requirements of "Str 12+, Wis 12+, Con 13+” but they seem like an excellent choice for ‘non-conformist’ Roman characters who want a cleric that can handle themselves in a fight.

The next Kit is something that probably would have been controversial if much attention had been shined on this relatively plain-looking book. I think all the books with the crazy monsters and such on the front took the attention away and let The Christian Cleric kit sneak through.

As I’ve said earlier, the ‘religious issue’ is an unmistakable part of a work like this, and ignoring it would be worse than not handling it with the proper respect. Before getting to the gamer parts, I’ll state that the write-up of Jewish and Christian history is pretty limited here and is in good taste, hopefully intended to avoid offending anyone. One note is that Christian Clerics are expected to avoid military service, with the note that this changes once the Empire officially switches to Christianity.

Now, as a munchkin looking at this Kit, you get a Reaction Bonus from other Christians and are pacifist. A note states that these Clerics can use Weapon Proficiency slots as Non-Weapon Proficiency slots, but the language is a bit unclear as to if it’s a MAY or MUST situation. Since the coded write-up allows Staff or Club, I’ll assume these can be taken, and additional slots turned in.

For disadvantages, it’s a hard road: There’s a -3 Reaction Penalty to non-Christians, and as it’s a persecuted faith, there’s a lot of potential social ramifications. Christian priests can only use magic items consecrated by the church, and sinning priests may lose their powers. Performing ‘evil’ acts on the non-faithful to save their souls is cool, though.

From a gaming standpoint, this seems woefully underperforming, and I wonder if it was intentional to avoid it becoming an issue. Ironically, for someone who grew up in the 80s, I feel like playing a game with Clerics or Jupiter, Mars, etc.would be less controversial than this would, especially if it was the overpowered option. The willingness to do historical books like this in the early 90s shows how things had changed.

Moving on, we have another “They don’t exist” paragraph on a class that doesn’t fit in this setting. In this case it’s the Druid and as you might expect, there’s an option to use a variant Druid kit from the Celts book. Druids are persona non grata in Rome, with a massive Reaction Penalty and a possible death sentence as a "fanatical tree worshipers who practice human sacrifice.”

We’re done with the classes and kits, but there’s still quite a number of pages of character-related stuff to cover to continue Chapter 3. Next up is Modified Proficiencies and the slightly more than half a page dedicated to female characters.

One final note: This chapter is extremely light on art. For 19 pages, there's 2 pieces of art:
  1. A nice scene of Roman soldiers making an assault from one ship to another.
  2. What is presumably a barbarian (in stripey pants) in chains in front of a bunch of men in togas.
That's it!
 

DarkMoc

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#23
Roman Politician” seems like a weird Kit to be fighter-specific, and I don’t see much that really makes it something only a Fighter would do.
Roman politicians had to have served in the legions. It's probably not strictly necessary for them to be fighters, but the legion requirement is likely why the author chose to make politician a fighter kit.
 

MacBalance

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#24
Roman politicians had to have served in the legions. It's probably not strictly necessary for them to be fighters, but the legion requirement is likely why the author chose to make politician a fighter kit.
That makes a lot of sense. I think the book might have hinted at that, but I may have missed it the reference. Again, this is someplace where I feel expanding the book's page count might have helped. With sufficient page count, I could see dedicating chapters to "The Military Campaign" and "The Political Campaign" with notes, story ideas, and possibly some mechanics support for each,a s well as possibly a couple other campaign ideas.
 

Gen. Lee

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#25
Overall, I wonder if a more ‘focused’ campaign might have built the ‘family’ around a sort of meta-character concept and had player characters concepts tie into it. The later Menzoberanzan box set did this, as I remember, with the expectation that player character Drow would be part of a not-too-evil minor house.

Back to Rome, at many levels the DM will need to create multiple NPCs. ...

I definitely wonder if a more forceful consideration of the concept of a single Senator-level ‘house’ that all/most PCs are part of would have been a good sue of the space. A Senatorial house could accommodate PCs from the main house, as well as lower-ranking (Equestrian through commoner) families with ties to it. Saves the DM a lot of work, and gives some interesting plot-hooks and a common focus.
Now you've got me wondering about crossing a Roman game with either of the Game of Thrones rulesets that I have. The D6 version dealt with the noble house as a construct, that would be interesting in the setting of Senatorial or knightly families duking it out for power.
 

MacBalance

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#26
Now you've got me wondering about crossing a Roman game with either of the Game of Thrones rulesets that I have. The D6 version dealt with the noble house as a construct, that would be interesting in the setting of Senatorial or knightly families duking it out for power.
I could definitely see the house-focused game as a workable structure. While set much later historically, the cable TV series "The Borgias" would be a good inspiration for this kind of game as well. I think a lot of the historical 'noble houses' eras could be workable, but relatively open to allow players a lot of freedom. If doing House Simpson, for example, not everyone needs to have a blood-tie to the Simpsons. Player characters might be hired specialists, members of allied houses, or members of other big organizations (organized churches, bureaucracies, holy orders, etc.) that have a common reason to work together.
 

MacBalance

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#27
Today we're continuing Chapter 3: Characters

Modified Proficiencies

Several proficiencies are modified for Rome campaigns. Engineering is moved from the Priest category to Warriors, which follows with the idea of the Roman military doing a lot of construction as they traveled. Heraldry is simply removed, languages and reading/writing are tweaked. Riding, Airborne is removed since there’s no flying critters around, and Riding, Land-based notes the lance is removed. Three new proficiencies are added, which are a bit more interesting.

Military Science could be called ‘Strategy’ and applies to large-scale combats, not the dungeon-crawl expeditions. It even has rules to make it effective if using the Battlesystem wargaming rules! There’s no specification as to how this new proficiency fits into the lists, though. I would assume it's a Warrior skill.

(As an aside, I'm slowly going through a lot of my old gaming stuff and either putting it in better storage or using the worldwide limited-access storage system known as 'selling it on eBay'... If I find my copy of the blue Battlesystem 2.0 book I may have to give that a review, now that I've played some more modern tabletop wargames. At the time, my only experience with wargaming was Battletech and such.)

Politics is a catch-all for dealing with the upper levels of Rome. From the description, it can be used to figure out who needs to be influenced, which then becomes a role-playing opportunity. This is similar to how I think 'Streetwise' type skills are best handled, and works for me. it's basically a roll to see if the player gets the right set of exposition on the political atmosphere from the DM or not.

Rhetoric covers public speaking, with a note that it covered the “rules and conventions for delivering legal and political speeches” so it sounds like a necessary skill for would-be politicians.

A note mentions that all Roman PCs get the reading/writing proficiency at no charge unless they are slaves. Yay for literacy!

Female Characters


Slightly over a column of text is devoted to female characters. I don’t think books like this need to spend page after page on the role of female characters in the setting, but on the other hand I would prefer it be spread among the main content, not shoved into the tail end of a long chapter.

Roman culture was male dominated. Roman women were in a distinctly inferior position, kept that way by both law and custom. Adventuring women are unlikely—it was a rare Roman who even took his wife with him when he traveled!
So, yeah. I basically interpret that as, “You want to have a strong female character? You’re on your own.” but there are some interesting female exceptions. The Roman Witch is female, and many mystery cults as well as some state cults have priestesses. There’s even some token support for female priests of Mithras or Christianity, but they’re noted as unable to gain official rank (which would make Mithras-worship difficult, due to the advancement limitations. Fighting Women are limited to Gladiators and Street Fighter kits. I’m not sure if this is meant to state “If using a Kit, only these are available” or “one of these Kits must be used.” I would assume the former.

Female rogues are not limited in any way.

The Birthright rules get several revisions. Essentially, the Romans don’t allow female Senators, so if the birthright roll indicates that rank for the character, the character gets a husband.

I do like the last part of this section:

The husband may or may not approve of her adventuring; per- haps he is a soldier on campaign in a foreign land, and he is totally unaware of it!
I think a movie about a Roman woman who goes off and has cool swords & sorcery adventures while her husband is away on business, then pulls a Ferris Bueller run to get home before he finds out would be awesome.

Interestingly two results (“Impoverished Patrician” and “Arranged marriage”) are rolled together to mean the PC is a rich widow. “Military Family” is meaningless and the reaction modifiers for Ugly and Beautiful are doubled.

I know some of this is modern sensibilities getting in the way, and this book's treatment of female characters is still better than a lot of previous-generation RPG material, but this section felt a bit tacked-on to me. Earlier in the thread I mentioned how the 'Noble House' concept is pretty big in media right now (The Borgias, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, The Tudors, etc) and one thing most of those get right is adding in some female characters who might not be the biggest characters, but are at least influential movers and shakers (and, in all honesty, often at least a bit of eye-candy for the male audience) who actually do things that impact the plot. I see no reason this shouldn't extend to a Rome campaign.

On the other hand, I might be reading way too much into it. I'm really not sure. Thoughts?

A section on Roman Names closes out the chapter which is, honestly, the best chance a Rome campaign would have to avoid too many names being lifted from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.There’s a short primer on how Roman names and a list of names to steal from.

next up, in a day or two, we'll look at Magic in a Roman campaign!
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
#28
Whew. Long section!

Not a bad kit, though. I could see a PC Gladiator requiring some work to travel, but for near-Rome adventures there’s enough freedom to have fun, the drawback of fame can be exploited, and the Gladiatorial Games themselves are a source of plot-fun. With my concept of having the PCs all represent a single Senatorial family, contracted (or even enslaved) Gladiators could be useful as 'muscle' for the group's plots.
Some sort of "troupe-style" set up might work well, like Ars Magica. The gladiators become the grogs, and are a pool used by all the players. That way, they can be killed off fairly easily.

As a side note, I’ve read online that these historical ‘green leather’ books were intended as pairs in some cases, and this book is paired with the Celts book, thus the frequent cross-references. If there’s interest, maybe I’ll pick that up and give it a similar treatment.
I'd be interested. I've been reading a few books on Celtic history lately, and it's a fascinating culture (far more so than Rome, IMO).

The other Wizard kit is the Philosopher-Mage. I like that the description calls out that this is a common role for those that travel to Rome from other civilizations such as Greece, Egypt, and Persia. They may or may not be nobles, but can often get invites to noble parties. They are wizards with the schools of Abjuration and Greater Divination.

The ‘adventuring’ benefit to this Kit is the ability to Interpret Omens once per week, which can give some random benefits and will be discussed later. The social benefits include being invited to be a ‘resident philosopher’ by nobles on a positive reaction roll which provides free room and board, as well as a small stipend, in return for being the crazy smart guy at dinner parties (which apparently occur every three days). There’s also a Reaction Bonus, which in this case is to others from the specific philosophical school the character follows.

The major drawback is a reaction bonus from opposing philosophical schools, as well as a penalty ‘in non-intellectual circles’ which might be the only thing keeping that ‘resident philosopher’ thing in check.
Do they cover what "philosopher" means in this context? (I.e. proto-scientists, not people who talk about the meaning of existence of meaning.)

Moving on, we have another “They don’t exist” paragraph on a class that doesn’t fit in this setting. In this case it’s the Druid and as you might expect, there’s an option to use a variant Druid kit from the Celts book. Druids are persona non grata in Rome, with a massive Reaction Penalty and a possible death sentence as a "fanatical tree worshipers who practice human sacrifice.”
Diviciacus was from the early Roman Empire era, and he's literally the only surviving example of a specific person who was called a "druid" by any of the classical authors. He is known from the writings of Julius Caesar and Cicero (the latter used the term "druid"). Diviciacus went to Rome to petition the Senate for military assistance against the Germanic tribes, which were making incursions into Gaul. While in Rome he stayed with Cicero's brother, spoke to the Senate, and was apparently well respected and considered an expert on natural philosophy. Though Julius Caesar as used his petition as one of the excuses he was looking for to conquer Gaul. While in Gaul, Caesar faced Diviciacus' younger brother Dumnorix, who led their tribe against Caesar's legions, and spared the war-leader's life at Diviciacus's behest.
 

Marc17

Registered User
Validated User
#29
On the other hand, I might be reading way too much into it. I'm really not sure. Thoughts?
There was a thread a while back about how to get women into the military or some such in an alternate history game of Rome. IIRC, it got sort of complicated and was not just a matter of "women are inferior" really, but rather there were strict gender roles that both sides followed. In the end, Rome had plenty of women as power brokers in the times of the Julio-Claudian emperors and I'm sure you could find others. I'm sure that cockold and battered husbands existed in Rome. If the wife was a mid or high level adventurer bringing in the money and the husband wasn't, there's probably not much he could do except divorce her and lose that money or cause her enough grief that her or her friends cause him to disappear (depending on what types they were). Women might be secretly acting in men's roles, such as the military, but how secret that may be could vary from absolute to open secret. For the rich, most cultures tend to let people get away with such things so long as they at least pretend they are following the norms or keeping breakage of such a secret and don't flaunt it.
 

anowack

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#30
Female characters are a part where I think the design goals of "be AD&D" and "be historical-ish Rome" really conflict and cause problems. The D&D-ness requires that PCs be some variation of fighter, thief, mage, or cleric and be able to kill things and take their stuff, ideally while freely wandering the setting with their fellow adventurers. The gender attitudes of Rome make it difficult to fit female characters smoothly into those roles, and the potentially interesting roles the 'Noble House' type of campaign would allow for women just aren't well-supported by D&D as a game system.
 
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