Friday, October 17, 2008

CiaB: The Mystery Scrolls

There are a lot of parallels, both good and bad, between the United States and the height of the Roman Empire. I'm not going to get into anything deeply political or social here, but what I am going to focus on is that, when it comes right down to it, Rome makes such a great campaign setting precisely because there are so many parallels to draw on. Your average middle class urbanite probably has a lot more in common with a Roman tradesman circa 40 BC than with some Frankish peasant circa 1200 AD. And yet, for whatever reason, Medieval games seem to be several orders of magnitude more popular that RPGs set in the Roman world.

Therefore, my Campaign in a Bottle for this week is The Mystery Scrolls. Simply put, it is The X-Files meets HBO's Rome. The ancient world was full of supernatural mysteries, mythical creatures, dark magics, and other weirdnesses. You've got heavily built up cities as well as primeval forests, customs and superstitions from dozens of cultures all mixing together and providing lots of interesting avenues of adventure exploration.

My more specific campaign premise would be that the PCs are members of a secret Imperial organization, sanctioned by the Emperor (or the Senate, if you're setting the game pre-Caesar) to investigate instances of dark sorcery, hauntings, attacks by mysterious creatures - anything that the Emperor or the Senate feels more conventional bodies are ill-equipped to handle. Now, this being the Ancient World, there's going to be a more pragmatic viewpoint towards these happenings - after all, at least a good portion of Romans really did have some belief in "magic", and who really did know what was out in some of those ancient Germanic forests?

Just like The X-Files, there is the potential for lots of varied adventures. One session could involve tracking down a vampire who's stalking the streets of Rome at night, feeding on drunken, unwary nobles. Another session might find the PCs on the British frontier, going against a powerful Celtic druid who's frustrating the efforts of the Legions to subdue the populace. Another session might have to deal with the haunting of a Roman villa, while the next might place our PCs in Greece, dealing with a bloodthirsty Minotaur cult that's making trouble for Roman trade interests.

One nice option for a game like this, is that because of the distances involved, it might make sense to use a stable of PCs, rather than a set party, and this would mean that you could have a huge variety of characters, both Roman and foreign. While Rome was a pretty biased, racist state, they certainly were not above employing foreigners, and depending on when exactly the campaign is set, you could have any number of European, African, or Mediterranean PCs of a wide variety of professions. Magic-using PCs, both "wizards" and "priests" (although there was a lot less differentiation back then) would be very handy - in fact, this sort of game would actually lend itself quite well to a D&D-esque four-class party of Fighter/Thief/Mage/Cleric.

And to further sweeten the pot, just like The X-Files, there's nothing preventing a clever GM from mixing "conspiracy" sessions with "creature features". the Roman world was rife with conspiracies, and it would be almost impossible for some of the PC's missions to not be politically motivated. Taken even further up the Weirdness Scale, you could start working in, dare I say it, the "Alien Menace". Hmmm, Stargate, anyone? After all, if the sandal fits...why not wear it?

Questions, Comments, Suggestions?


Anonymous said...

Very cool idea.

Badelaire said...

Glad you liked it.