In the Alban Empire

Unfortunately, my Viking True20 campaign ended without a real conclusion. I’m glad, though, that I got the chance to run it. One of the reasons is that I learned a heck of a lot about the Varangian trade route through Russia to Byzantium. I also learned a lot about Viking history and culture.

I recently finished a spate of reading and listening regarding Roman history, probably sparked by the absolutely awesome podcast, the History of Rome. If you like history and/or Rome, you will love this podcast.

So, of course, I have the bug to run a Roman campaign.

I’d set my Roman campaign in a counter-Earth, one in which magic exists, and because of it, the Etruscans overcame the Romans and took their place in history. Just as the Romans adapted much of Etruscan culture to suit them, on this counter-Earth, the Etruscans adapted the Roman ethos to their own culture, and this has allowed them to dominate the Mediterranean world, just as Rome had.

It’s really just an excuse not to hew as closely to history as I did in my Viking campaign.

Here’s a cut scene, which would occur before the adventure. If I do any more work for this, I’ll likely post it on SEP, as that is where all my gaming stuff is supposed to go. Right now, it’s only fiction, so it fits here.

Welcome to the Empire of Alba Longa:

Valens wore a simple tunic and breeches, with a heavy coat and cloak over these. The early mornings cut like winter here on the river. Camp Prefect Aulus Pullo watched his commander, the Legate of the Ironclads and the Marshall for the Province of Moesia, far east of the capital. Valens was no shivering son of wealth, some senator’s whelp playing at soldier. This man had been a legionary, and risen through the ranks. This man knew marching in the mud in full gear. This man knew standing shoulder-to-shoulder against the enemy.

This man, Pullo respected.

A painted map of the province and the areas surrounding it covered the table at which Marshall Valens and Prefect Pullo stood.

“What did Ostios have to report?” Valens did not look up from the map when he spoke.

Ostios: their spy in the lands of the barbarians across the river. Pullo imagined that Valens stared hard at the word “Roxolani” scrawled in red chalk over the lands north, a day or two’s hard riding from their fortress at Durostorum.

“The barbarians are moving south, pressing against the settlements north of the Ister.” Pullo tapped the region bordered by blue chalk directly across the Ister River from Durostorum. “So far, no violence. No one has been removed from their land. Ostios believes, and I agree with him, that it won’t be long. The Roxolani have no love for farmers, and no love for us.”

Valens looked up then, a sly smile on his face. “Come now, Pullo, we’re all friends. Haven’t they signed treaties? Didn’t the one who claims to be their king, that fat pimple Azes, give his word to respect the interests of the Dictator?” A chuckle, low and without humour, rippled from Valens. “Does my cynicism show?”

Pullo didn’t laugh. He didn’t smile. Valens often tried to draw him out. The Marshall liked to have an easy-going relationship with his officers. Pullo, though, respected the office as much as the man. A camp prefect didn’t share jokes with his legate.

Valens didn’t show any offence at Pullo’s silence. He never did. “So, war is it?”

“Azes of the Ciambrani is at Silestoros with a small bodyguard.” Pullo pointed to the white ‘X’ which marked the trade village, just at the blue border between the settled lands under Imperial protection and the lands of the Roxolani. “Ostios has word that they are trying to cut some kind of deal with the locals. I think he is going to hire himself off as a mercenary.”

“Good luck.” Valens stepped away from the map. He took up his goblet of mulled wine and sat in a camp chair off to the side. No servants attended him. None ever did. This man was a soldier. “What of the auxiliaries? Many of them are Sarmatians, some of them could even be Roxolani.”

Pullo stiffened at even an off-hand hint that the auxiliaries might be anything other than totally steadfast. “The auxiliaries are soldiers, sir. They have made their oaths. Those with us here were with us in Belgica. They fought the Teutons at our side. They are auxiliaries now, not Sarmatians.”

A pregnant pause followed. Valens took a sip of his wine. He swallowed loudly. “You know the prefect of the auxiliaries?”

“Yes, sir. Marcus Rufius. I marched with him. His father was a Teuton, but Marcus is a citizen.”

Valens tapped his chin with a finger. “Rufius was a centurion when I commanded the Flavia Felix legion. I like him. Good. We may need some of his auxiliaries.”

Pullo frowned. “For?”

“Reconnaissance,” said Valens. “Ostios has always been truthful with us, but there is something about the man that worries me. I want some of my men over there. I want my exploratores over there, looking over Aves and his people. I want to know who the real power in the Roxolani is. I want to know what is driving the Roxolani south. I need to know if we are looking at another war.”

“Understood, sir.”

“I need special men, mind you.” Valens leaned forward on his chair, intent. “This will be more than simple scouting. I need smart men, capable men, devious men. I don’t need legionaries, necessarily, if you take my meaning.”

“I believe I do, sir.” This time, Pullo allowed a tight grin to crease his face. “I believe I do.”

Valens considered the contents of his cup. “And you already have some men in mind who would fit our bill?”

And Pullo’s tight grin turned into a smile. “Oh, I believe so, sir.”

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