Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: Rolemaster Rome

The Roman Republic, and later Empire, remains a source of interest and inspiration today. From countless novels set in those times to the popularity of movies such as Ben-Hur to Gladiator and TV shows such as Rome, that ancient civilization still seems to fascinate us. It's easy to see why--Rome stood for power in its time, and adventure in remote, wild places. Add this to the intrigues of power, a whole host of insane wars and battles, and images of gladiators and martyrs alike facing bloody doom in the Coliseum, and you have a time and place that's fertile for stories and adventure.

Enter Graham Bottley's Rolemaster Rome, a new product by Arion Games that seeks to provide all that's dynamic and involving about Classical Rome for Rolemaster Classic. For those of you out there that are Rolemaster SS or FRP fans, worry not--a conversion document has been released as part of the pdf download. Ringing in at 200 pages, this is the first Rolemaster-dedicated product from Arion, whose previously best known product was perhaps the re-issue of the classic RPG Maelstrom. No matter, because there's a lot to like in Rolemaster Rome, though also a couple of places for improvement.

Rolemaster Rome begins with racial selections (Roman, Gaul, and Greek), and briefly mentions traning packages suitable for a Roman Campaign. The table of special abilities seems to fit quite well into a Roman-themed campaign, with entries like "Rome-Born", "Man of the People", and "Natural Roman" conveying some of the edges in Roman public life amongst the privileged.

There are some minor rule adjustments included to tweak Rolemaster Classic for a Roman campaign--mostly telling you which options from Character Law to "turn on". Of particular interest here is the addition of Dignitas, an attribute reflecting social standing, public achievement, and honor. This is largely a social attribute, to be rolled in sort of a "don't you know who I am?" situation. I found one of the best tweaks Rolemaster Rome presented.

Curiously enough, Rolemaster Rome glosses through some of the geographical descriptions of the Roman Empire itself. Chapter 3, which is supposed to address this, covers under 10 pages. I thought this was a strange design decision. A short Chapter 4 on Magic follows this, which discusses the minor modifications and restrictions of spells for the setting.

If Chapter 3 was a disappointment as far as presenting Roman geography, Chapter 5, which deals with Roman Life, is not. 30 pages here cover every facet of life in Rome, from the role of family to the life of slaves to wages, travel, sexuality, and so much more. This is where Bottley's writing really seems to come to life, and is a highlight of the work.

Chapter 6 is a brief overview of Rome. This session again suffers from the same brevity of Chapter 3, but will provide a basic overview of the historic capital of the Roman Empire.

Chapters 7 & 8 cover weapons/armor and price lists, respectively. The weapons and armor chapter is a fun one, with plenty of illustrations, and it's clear a lot of consideration went into its crafting.

Chapter 9 covers the Roman Legions, and does a good job of providing guidance on some of the different organizational methods that were used. Chapters 10 & 11 cover deities and mythology, and likewise do a nice job of subject presentation.

Chapter 12 discusses customizing your Roman Rolemaster campaign to various eras and playstyles, and that ends the Chapters portions of the book. But what would a Rolemaster product be without plenty of appendices? Guess what follows Chapter 12?

The appendices cover everything from races, professions, training packages (expanded here from earlier in the book), treasure tables, encounter tables, standards stats, and a bibliography. Add in a few sheets for Roman settlements and characters, plus a pretty nice index, and you have Rolemaster Rome. In their own way, the appendices tie this product together and make it so much more useful. If this information were spread across the book, it would be maddening. Nice work on organization by Mr. Bottley on that account.

This is not a product that shows complete 100% veracity on historical material, but neither is it too burdened with errors or anachronisms. At it's best, Rolemaster Rome evokes favorable comparisons to products such as the old ICE Campaign Classics line.

I would have liked to have seen a few more illustrations, but the art is relevant and generally informative and well-placed. The layout is a bit Spartan in places, but aside from a few curiously short chapters, is clean and well-considered.

For overall value, Rolemaster Rome definitely packs a lot in 200 pages, though perhaps a bit unevenly on various topics. However, at $15 for the pdf, some gamers might find that slightly high. It all depends on how you value pdfs--and that's an entirely different discussion right there. I would give it a solid 3.5 out of 5 on substance, and a 3.5 out of 5 on style. Rolemaster Rome shows promise, and delivers on much of it. I believe if Arion Games produces further Rolemaster supplements, we'll see some of the bumps ironed out. Either way, it's great to have a new quality Rolemaster supplement out there. Rolemaster Rome is going to scratch an itch for Rolemaster fans looking for new source material.


Eric Wilde said...

Somewhat inappropriate to the theme of your post, the Roman Empire holds my fascination today for a very different reason. As is the way with all empires, they crumble and fall. The USA draws much of its original political inspiration from Rome (and the Athenians before them.) Just as Rome fell, so too does the American Empire now stand on the brink of collapse. Therein lies my fascination with Rome.

Akrasia said...

Nice review. I have this PDF, and for the most part quite like it, although I would rank it behind the recent supplement on Rome for BRP.

Graham Bottley said...

Thank you for a thorough and balanced review. I am currently working on the Egypt companion, to give those Romans somewhere to travel to, and there will be others on the way.
I will try and iron out some of the issues you found!

Zachary The First said...

@Eric: Historians wet themselves either denying or stating the USA’s parallels to Rome. It’s a favorite topic of discussion among many, probably because it’s very easy to see ourselves in the same spiral of decline. I find it fascinating how Roman life could be so close to our own in some ways, yet in some ways so alien from us.

@Akrasia: I haven’t seen the BRP Rome book. A lot of their monographs are excellent, though.

@Graham: My thanks! I’ll look forward to your treatment of Rolemaster Egypt!

Greyaxe1 said...

I really like Rolemaster Rome. I have been using a "romaesque" setting in my Merp for some time, this book fits in perfectly. I confess i have not read every page but was a little disapointed in the treatment of the Senate, which figures heavily in my game. Otherwise the cultural and historical notes are fab. I would like to work out a conversion for Denari, gold silver etc. I was just emailed the RMFRP conversion and was very happy to get it. I did find the pages spartan in places, more decorations on the page number, some additional art would be nice as well. I agree 3.5 out of 5. Well done for a first effort by Arion Games.