Basic Roleplaying: Rome, Life and Death of the Republic

From: Alephtar Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Basic Roleplaying: Rome, Life and Death of the Republic is a RPG Core Setting Rule Book from Alephtar Games.

I have had a few PDFs in my archives that were given to me to review but due to unforeseen life complications, I was not able to.  I felt I owed those products a review and sicne I have started The Gamer’s Codex, I have gone back in my archives and found a number of those products.  Basic Roleplaying: Rome, Life and Death of the Republic is one of them.

Rome is the longest enduring civilization in western European history and its influences, good and bad, are still felt today.  Recent television shows like Rome and Spartacus have brought the brutality, sensuality and intrigue to life for us.  It is no wonder that there is an attraction to role-play in that setting.  I am by no means a Roman historian but this book seems to have backing of several learned individuals on the subject, so I trusted it to be historically accurate where it needed to be.

Chaosium was one of the first companies to develop a generic role playing game systems, and it is still sustained today through Call of Cthulhu and various other titles it supports.  A percentile skill-based system, Basic Role Play system (BRP) was used as the basis for most of the games published by Chaosium.  Its simplicity and popularity are very attractive and I can see why the author used it.

From page # 2:
S. P. Q. R. Senatus Populusque Romanus

The first thing that really hit me as I went through this PDF was the amount of information and the detail it was going into.  It is amazing, intelligent and very comprehensive.

Chapter 1 is primarily an introduction, explaining the basics and the basis of the book.  This book’s setting is during the time of Roman Republic, from its inception in the mid-700s BC to its collapse in 27 BC.  Setting it during that time is a daunting task, as 700 years is a lot of time.  A lot happened to the great civilization at that time and despite the amount of information in this 224 page PDF, as it states in the intro, it only scratches the surface.  Where it can, the author uses historical quotes from various sources to support facts and suppositions he makes throughout.

Chapter 2 covers Roman society, including Social Structure, The Family, The Clan, Client System, The Census, Guilds, Laws and Government and a number of other subjects.  To be a Roman was to be a member of a vibrant and dynamic culture; confident, arrogant and egocentric.  The social structure starts with a strong family (Familia) all the way to the Clan.   These sections go into great detail about what it is to be a member of Roman society, be it a citizen, freeman, slave or foreigner.  It also goes deep into something called The Roman Way  – an unwritten set of social rules of nobility, morals, honor and virtues.  This is the Roman society, and in many ways, parallels our own.

Finally, this chapter goes into deep detail about Roman government and politics, as well as law and punishment.  This is where you get your inspirations for the intrigue campaigns.  The Roman Republic was born from the overthrow of the Monarchy and the attempt to have an elected government.  It evolved and eventually collapsed from inter-factional conflicts between the old nobility, the senate nd the military.  If you watch the TV show Rome, you see the intrigue, backstabbing and back-alley deals that might have happened at that time, and see the adventuring potential in that alone.

Chapter 3, Roman Culture, covers various subjects related to Roman culture, including leisure and entertainment, music and dancing, prostitution, sports and games, art and literature, fashion, food and of course, wine.  If you want to know what a Roman may be talking about while standing at the fountain or talking to the coliseum, this is the chapter to read. Again, like everything else, this has amazing detail.  You feel like you are in Rome after reading this chapter.

This setting book, Basic Roleplaying: Rome, Life and Death of the Republic, primarily focuses on the city Rome and its environs.  It would have been too much work to try and cover beyond that.  However, with Chapter 4, The City Of Rome, you get enough to envision the center of the world at the time – the City of Rome.  It covers various locations throughout the city at various times in its evolution.  After over two centuries of war during the time of the monarchs, the city established its boundaries and these amazingly stayed fairly constant for several centuries.  Once again, in stellar detail, it walks you through the various locations behind these walls, what you would expect to see, what shops would be available in the shopping districts, what a standard house would look like, the water systems and other utilities, as well as the hazards and crime on the city’s streets.  The Maps section in the back completes the vision of the city with various maps.

Since watching the Spartacus series, my favorite aspect of the Roman culture is the gladiatorial games. Chapter 5, The Games, takes you into the grand events that were a center piece of Roman culture.  Today America has football, but back then they had the blood and the sand.  What is surprising is that these games were not always centered on the gladiatorial fights.  There were various sporting events as part of these festivities – various sporting contests and equestrian races.  For a time, the races were the center of the games.  It was fascinating to read the evolution of the games and the various reasons they were held.  This chapter takes you through what took place in a typical game – from the processions, animal shows, and athletics to the chariot races and gladiatorial combats.  It also covers the gladiators, their training schools and the different types of gladiators.

Chapter 6, The Army, focuses on the glory of Rome and its early conquests.  Although the book primarily focuses on the City of Rome, an adventure can just as easily take place outside the walls somewhere on the road to conquest of Rome’s enemies.  And they had many throughout its first 700 years.  It took Rome 550 years to conquer all of Italy and if a GM is wants to take his players on a military adventure, there is plenty of opportunity.  It may take some extra research to create the various locations for battle but that’s what the internet is for, right?

This chapter covers the army during its early years during the monarchy as well as during the early, mid, and late Republic.   Of all things, the means to kill ones’ enemies would change the most over 700 years, so this chapter describes the state of a typical soldier throughout each of those eras. Roman military discipline was legendary and brought great prestige to those who joined.  The chapter describes what a raw recruit went through to become a true Roman soldier as well as what they were paid in wages, what they spent their money on, what they were allowed to plunder and even the decorations and rewards, triumphs and ovations, and legionary standards.  Once again, in great detail, you are given a vision of what it was like to be in the Roman army.

From page # 2:
“Ilia the fair, a priestess and a queen,
who, full Ofmars, in time, with kindly throes,
shall at a birth two goodly boys disclose.
The royal babes a tawny wolf shall drain:
then Romulus his grandsire’s throne shall gain,
of martial towers the founder shall become,
the people Romans call, the city Rome.”

No one goes through school without learning at least a little about the classic tales of the Roman gods, but few probably know how those beliefs evolved from the spirit and animal worship of the early tribes of Rome.  Chapter 7, Religion & Philosophy, details the various religions of Rome including ancestor worship and animistic deities.  It has a fairly comprehensive list of these Roman deities and the reasons they were worshipped.  It also delves into the priesthood and the three colleges of priests.  Following this, it describes various religious practices and superstitions, festival and calendar systems.

Chapter 8, Characters, is an expansion of the BRP character generation system.  Of course, however, you need the core rule book to make your character.  In this chapter, it gives the players more options for the Roman setting.  It provides the player Roman names and why they are important, some Roman Republic era professions, and a complete list of era skills with descriptions where the BRP version does not suffice. It ends with a section on money, goods and equipment.

Magic and superstition are rife throughout Rome and all of Italy. Chapter 9, Magic And Superstition, provides you options for various approaches to magic in your campaign – no magic, psychological magic or true magic.  It covers various subjects like the legality of magic, types of magicians, and theology behind magic.  Magic in this setting is divided up into 6 skill categories: Theology, Divination, Cursing, Necromancy, Pharmacy, and Shape-shifting. Much of these rules supplement or expand on rules already in place by the BRP.  If you want magic in your Roman campaign, this is where you go.

Chapter 10 Creatures is a short chapter that gives you stats on standard animals of the era as well as mythical creatures, if your campaign wants to go down that road.  These include Aithiopian Bulls, Basilisk, Cacus, Eale, Grypes and Pegasi.  A good number of creatures stat’ed out, giving you many more options to delve into the world of the Roman Republic and its mythologies.

Designing a campaign or even a simple adventure for a standard genre like fantasy or sci-fi is hard enough.  I would imagine building one for a historical setting like this is even harder.  Chapter 11, Roman Campaigns, guides you through various means to build early Roman era campaigns.  From intrigue to adventure, suggestions are given that help inspire you to create great Roman adventures.  It also dives into some interesting alternative options like Fantasy Rome, Pax Cthulhu, Tempus Ambulatus (Time travel adventures), High Sci-Fi, and others. In addition, it helps you with designing different types of  scenarios or adventures like gladiatorial, charioteering, religious, legion, crime, animal, disaster, supernatural, patron, and  political scenarios.

The book closes out with some great resources for famous personages of Roman Republic, an extensive historical timeline and several helpful appendices including a bibliography, Latin Profanity, The Twelve Tables, Minor Roman Deities, and Maps.  A character sheet is included in the back as well

In conclusion,  this book is full of unbelievable detail, inspiration and adventure for anyone that wants to get away from the standard doldrums of regular fantasy adventuring and do something different.  The book itself is stunning with great art from various historical depictions of ancient Rome.   What I liked most is that where possible, it gave you the Latin translations of various titles, sections and names.  That added some great flavor to the read.

For more details on Alephtar Games and their RPG Core Setting Rule Book “Basic Roleplaying: Rome, Life and Death of the Republic” check them out at their website http://www.alephtargames.com/.

Codex Rating: 18

Product Summary

Basic Roleplaying: Rome, Life and Death of the Republic
From: Alephtar Games
Type of Game: RPG Core Setting Rule Book
Written by: Pete Nash
Contributing Authors: Henri de Marcellus, D.Phil (Oxford), Lawrence Whitaker
Game Design by: Basic Roleplaying is the Registered Trademark of Chaosium, Inc.
Cover Art by: Tiziano Baracchi
Additional Art by: Dario Corallo, Alexandre Togeiro
Number of Pages: 224
Game Components Included: PDF formatted rulebook
Retail Price: $15.00 (US)  (PDF)
Website: http://www.alephtargames.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung