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Review: Basic Roleplaying Rome

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I was lucky enough to get a review copy of Alephtar Games and Cubicle 7’s Rome: the Life and Death of the Republic. This supplement is a licenced product for Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying, about which I know nothing. I warned Angus at Cubicle 7 that the best I could do would be a review of the flavour text. Since I got the review copy, it is apparent he agreed to that.

Thankfully he did so. I love this book.

Those of you who know me, or have followed the podcast—especially Collateral—know that I am a fan of Roman history. If you’re planning on doing a military campaign in ancient Rome, I’ve got you covered with episodes about the Republic and Carthage, the Civil Wars, and the Principate. Guess what? Rome: LDR covers two out of those three. Coincidence? You be the judge.

But now that I’m done pimping my own stuff, I’m going to pimp Rome:LDR.

There are a lot of these.

First is the very breadth of the book. It covers the Monarchy to the fall of the Republic. That’s a heck of a timeframe. It looks at Roman culture, society, religion, games and festivals, the military, and the city itself. It also looks at characters, and magic and superstition—using the Basic Roleplaying System. There is a lot of ground to cover, but this book has over 215 pages of content.

Second is the depth of the information. It just happens to be enough. There isn’t so much that it drowns you, but it isn’t too shallow that you can’t dive in. It gives the game master enough information to present these eras of Rome in a game environment. More likely won’t be necessary, but there’s a very nice bibliography in the back if you need a kick start researching any topic further.

Third is the writing itself. Pete Nash has done a great job. The prose is never heavy. It’s crisp and carries just enough weight. I don’t know whether Mr. Nash is just a very talented writer or if Lawrence Whitaker is an extremely aware editor. Perhaps both. The text is free of the glaring errors that have been so common recently in gaming texts, even from companies that should have the funds to pay for top-notch editing.

This does not read like a text book, even though it is giving us the kind of information one might usually find there. The text seems aware of its purpose, that this is a gaming supplement, that this is part of someone’s escape, someone’s entertainment. I actually think that the flavour portion of this supplement might  better serve kids in high school learning Roman history.

Even with the breadth and depth to which I’ve alluded, the book never loses its core, and that is the city of Rome. Much of this information could be applicable should one play a campaign in one of the provinces—if one is playing in an era with provinces, of course—but the book specifically and consciously aims to discuss the city of Rome (the expansive title aside). That central point provides a lens to help keep the topic focused.

I could continue to gush, and I do on Collateral 29, available from the Accidental Survivors. Leave me to say that this is a great text, one I enjoyed reading, and one that Pete Nash, Alephtar Games, and Cubicle 7 should be proud to have published.

However, nothing is perfect.

The only complaint I have is the plethora of quotes from primary sources. The vast majority of topics in the book includes quotes from contemporary writers such as Livy, Plutarch and Pliny. The book overflows with them. Now, being a student of history, I am as enamoured of primary sources as the next history grad, but I do think that like salt, they are useful for flavouring, but should not overwhelm the meal. I felt that here, we have a little too much of a good thing. I can understand a writer’s enthusiasm for sharing the words of the people who lived in Rome, but a few quotes on select topics could have done so. I just feel there was too much.

And that’s it. That’s the only con.

So, as you can imagine, I wholeheartedly endorse this product. However, because there is so much information in here, if the players are not as well informed as the GM, a game might come off too much like a lesson. There is nothing wrong with learning as long as it is secondary to the fun. One way of doing this that occurred to me is having the characters be outsiders—perhaps Gauls or Greeks, perhaps even Spaniards—so that as the players learn of the city, so do the characters.

In any case, if you wish to hear more, go listen to the aforementioned Collateral episode.

The cover price on this book is $34.99 USD. That isn’t particularly expensive for the page count, and this book is extremely high quality. Given that I am a cheap bastard, the price would likely make me flinch. I think, though, that if you regularly spend as much on gaming books, that this one certainly matches anything out there. You’re getting a lot of bang for the buck.

I give this one 4.75 gladii out of 5. Outstanding.