Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Londinium 288 AD

The first of the six settings that we are considering for our next game comes courtesy of Chris R. (who played Lord Tybalt in our Knights of the Astral Sea game until the little fur ball was accidentally blown up by Genevieve):

Welcome to Roman London! It's 288 AD and Marcus Aurelius Mausaeus Valerius Carausius has just declared himself emperor in Britain and Northern Gaul. He has 4 legions at his command, as well as the entire Roman northern fleet, based in Dover and Boulogne-sur-mer. Londinium is now an Imperial capital and it is a place of intrigue, violence, and tremendous amounts of commerce. Carausius is trying desperately to portray himself as the restoration of the glories of Rome and is spending money liberally to do so. At the same time, Roman spies, Celtic spies, and others are trying to see how they can take him down.

Touchstones: "The Eagle" and "The Last Legion"

The Player Characters: They could be residents of London; they could be agents of Carausius; they could be agents of Rome.

What's Interesting: Its Rome, but much more chaotic. The emperor started off as a river pilot, so there is a sense that unlike in Rome, social mobility is possible. This both excites and frightens people.

How it ends: In 293, Carausius is murdered by his finance minister, who dies 3 years later when the legions of Rome retake Britain.

So, there has been some talk of doing a Sword & Sandals game for a couple of years now. I had always imagined my Swords & Sandals as being dustier, with a heavy dose of Sword &Sorcery as well. But Chris' proposal is very intriguing. I never knew there was a Britannic Empire that broke off from Rome. And the fact that it only lasts seven years sets us up perfectly for a fixed ending (which worked so well for us in Buffy).

love the idea of a game that feels like HBO's Rome. There's action, great character development, and tons of intrigue. Setting this in Roman Britain means that we can explore the collision of Celtic legend, Roman legends, Northern European barbarians, early Christianity, and mystery cults from the east.

The big question, for me is how we'll treat magic. Is it absent? D&D-style fantasy? My own preference, I think, would be for a game where magic is very real to the inhabitants of the game world (based on what people really believed at the time) but that it is mostly confined to subtle effects and prophecy. But this would all get worked out if the setting is chosen.

My big concern is the "historicity trap". In any historical setting, there is a temptation to try to get all the details right. While I'm super keen to explore this historical era, I'm not going to be an expert and I certainly don't want to slow things down to look up what actually happened on the Internet during play. My thought here is that we should agree to a small number of established facts before play and then treat the game much like the history in an HBO show like Deadwood or Boardwalk Empire. The needs of the game supersede the need for historical accuracy.

So what system would we use? My first choice would be Fate or Fate Accelerated Edition. And this isn't just because I've had a string an excellent Fate games. I do think Fate lends itself to this kind of game because it can make action scenes come alive, aspects can be used to reinforce theme, and because the social combat rules are actually fun and seamlessly blend with free form player-GM roleplaying. I also have confidence that Fate can handle military engagements, which will almost certainly come up.

Beyond Fate, the next choice would seem to be a D&D/D20 variant (old school or otherwise). But I'm not sure that would be appropriate. The same can be said for DungeonWorld. By choosing these systems, we'd either need to embrace the explore/loot/level-up paradigm or consciously work against the system's default play style. And finessing the magic system become more of an issue.

We've largely ruled out Gurps as we are currently hip-deep in it for Knights of the Astral Sea. Risus is not everyone cup of tea and the same can be said for Rolemaster. I do like PDQ and PDQ#, but I think I'd choose Fate over these.

Then there are the dark horse candidates: Call of Cthulhu (Cthulhu Invictus), Leverage (a team of Iron-Age operatives), The One Ring (elves are Sidhe), World of Darkness, and Ars Magica.

(Cross-posted from Risus Monkey)
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