Gladiator, Spartacus, Rome, and I, Claudius are all pieces of media that play into my fascination with the roman empire. Each one has made me scratch my head and wonder why there wasn’t a roleplaying game based on this interesting era of history.
Luckily, Fraser Ronald also had a similar idea. To fill this void, he created Centurion: Legionaries of Rome.
Centurion is a a 168 page page pdf that you can find on rpgnow.com for $10.99. This book, like many roleplaying games out currently was funded by Kickstarter. Rnald has created a light rules system more in line with modern storytelling aesthetic. It allows play in different eras of roman history. You can play in The Late Republic, The Civil Wars, The Principate
This is a rules light system that allows play in different eras of roman history. You can play in the Late Republic, The Civil Wars, The Principate, and the Third Century. Actions are resolved using a neat little dice pool mechanic. Players build a hand using their concept, traits, and elements. The hand is composed of a number of D6 based on the rating of each of these. This is where Ronald has added a unique mechanic that adds a bit of strategy to the game. The player and the GM have the option of trading up dice. You can take two D6 and make a D8 and laddering up accordingly. The strategy comes in due to the order in which dice are resolved. You start with the largest die and the highest number on the largest die goes first. Successes are generated by one die conquering another. Thus, if you had a D20 with a 10 and the GM has a D10 with 9, the player could conquer this die and remove it from the pool as well. Each success gives the person a bit of narrative control to describe the action. This proceeds until their are no more dice to conquer. If enough success have been garnered the challenge is complete or the process begins again. I kind of fell in love with this idea and appreciate the added strategic nuances that it adds to this narrative style game.
I can be a pretty harsh judge of a game based on it’s character creation system and Centurion does an excellent job of making it both simple yet flexible. Players start out with a concept that provides a vision for their character. It is a short defining phrase which starts out with a rating of 1. Traits are handled next. Every character has three traits, physical, social, and mental. The player can rank one as a three another as a two and the last as a one. This decision is best driven by the concept as it allows you to do what you are telling the GM you want to do. Elements are the last part of the character and are specific things about your character like strong as an ox or eagle-eyed. The player has 7D6 which he can then assign to elements as well as raising his concept. I sat down and, outside of coming up with a concept, was finished with a character in ten minutes. I initially struggled with concepts but found the ideas presented in each of the eras very helpful with this part of character creation.
I have to admit that I’m an old gamer and am used to game books being three hundred page monstrosities that I can use to defend myself come the zombie apocalypse. I was pleasantly surprised by how much was packed into this little book. In addition to the standard mechanics explanations, Ronald tackles the difficulties inherent in historical settings and military games.
There is a wealth of history in the Roman Empire which can prove daunting to your average roleplayer. Fraser takes the topic and makes it easily accessible. He addresses each era as their own section. Each section provides an overview of the era with enough information to give a group a jump start into it. Examples are also provided for concepts and characters that would fit within the time frame as well as alternate ways of handling it. I loved that he provided analogies throughout to different shows and which eras they would fit within as well as a bibliography for historical references.
The focus of Centurion is undoubtedly a military game which gives some roleplayers pause. This game has the idea of a rigid structure attached to it which isn’t necessarily true. Fraser provides an excellent explanation of how to both run and play in this type of game. He provides an excellent explanation of the ranks and trades that would be present within the roman army. He then takes each and gives you an idea of how these would make for both great concepts and excellent hooks for adventures. His explanation of how to avoid that rigid hierarchy is also insightful and should be a must read for anyone that plans to run any type of military game, not just Centurion.
I love this game. It is an easy to master system that captures the feel of playing within the roman army. It has plenty of room for both players and gm to stretch out creatively if the mood strikes them or to play a hardcore historical campaign. I am so glad that I backed it and recommend picking it up!