I didn't want to mention starting the 43 AD campaign for fear that I'd bring down the curse upon it again, but we started it yesterday. Since this is a mini-review of the game system as well as a play report, I'll try and remember to mention what was good and bad about the game system as opposed to just what was good and bad about playing it.
Right out of the gate Murphy's Law struck and I didn't have access to a full copy of the rules, which I brought with me on a flash drive, because Dalton didn't bring his laptop, which he ordinarily brings with him everywhere. That was no big deal though because I had printed out four player packets and a GM packet, which included all of the stuff from the player packets and some extra stuff that I thought might be useful, but never actually came into play. Printing out the entire action and encounters section would have been more useful for me as a GM, but when I was printing those sections out three weeks ago or more I just added one more copy to the ones I was printing for the players without really considering that I might need access to the entire section, as opposed to what was probably prudent for the players to see.
Then one player, my son John, was already committed to working over at my parent's house yesterday, so he wasn't going to be there. Then Darryl was late getting to his dad's house. Then Big Darryl's grandson David was invited into the game, which I didn't really mind, but I did have to tone down the gritty military tone and watch my language because he's only ten years old; that said this was his introduction to RPGs and he had a great time. Then one of the player packs just disappeared, before Darryl Jr. even got there and I had to hand out part of my GM pack. Damn that Murphy and his laws.
I also made the foolish assumption that character generation and the "basic training" exercises I had planned for them would take longer than they did. Character generation went by quick and easy, although not everyone was thrilled with their random rolls - Big Darryl ended up with a Syrian Freedman who was a cursed coward, not really the type of character that suits his personality at all. David and Darryl Jr. both got characters from Hispania, David's a craftsman and Darryl's a farmer; Dalton ended up with a hulking Gaulish craftsman with dreams of heroism, dreams he can fulfill.
David got kind of short-shrift on character generation and from me, I had Dalton overseeing him while I caught Darryl Jr. up to where the rest of the players were at, so I was not as aware of how to weave him into the story; plus, it being his first time, I wasn't really sure how much I should push him to role play. I shouldn't have worried, because as soon as the dice started rolling he was all about the game, he didn't even seem to mind when his shots got blocked by armor, but I'll get to that in a bit.
For the "Basic Training" bit, to bring everyone up to speed on how the game works, I worked in Dalton's character's enemy the unit's Centurion, who has decided to make his life hell because he can, but is doing it in a way that is legal; he is forcing them to take extra weapons and unarmed combat training because he thinks that their unit has been looking pretty lackluster. I decided that they were an ad hoc unit of scouts for the Century, because it kind of fits the campaign I have in mind and I had three out of four PCs pick the Archer gear, the 4th wanted to too, but realized that his burly Gaul would "be a better tank", and picked the Assault Trooper gear.
The combat system itself is simple and fast playing and very similar to one that Darryl and I designed back in the mid 1990's when we were looking for a better system than 2nd edition AD&D. It runs pretty smooth and is pretty realistic, while maintaining an abstract nature; which means that it is deadly. Characters are never going to be superheroes in this game. Armor works in a way that you are either going to really like or really hate, because for each point of armor you have you get 1d6 to try and save versus the damage that a given attack causes, you save on a 6. I like it, Darryl hates it, but he has his reasons that I'll get to.
Now, before I go any further, I'll address a couple of issues with the character sections of the book that we were dealing with. There are two different prices for slings, one on the "Spending Money on Kit" page and one on the very next page. I am assuming that the spending money on kit is something that can only be done with your starting money at character creation, and that it then becomes part of your kit, but it's not explicitly stated. Also, the quiver for Javelins is stated as having a capacity of 5, but Skirmishers are only issued 3; is one of these numbers a typo? The "Hard to Kill" trait states that it gives on point of natural Armor Value to a PC, but also states that they need to roll a 1 on a d6 instead of a 6 on a d6, which can be interpreted as getting a second saving throw for that trait versus damage; I assume that's a typo and it merely adds the extra point of armor, but that did become a minor point of contention. It is also stated that all characters start with their native language at 1, which is described as "basic understanding", rather than fluent and foreign (non-Italian) characters have to spend their one free Learning point on Latin, which is OK, I just think you should start out fluent in your mother tongue. Having found a few issues in just one session's worth of play I think it likely that we'll find more along the way.
On the plus side, since Zozer has only released this as a pdf so far, they have the ability to edit the master pdf and update it, then everyone who bought it can download it again for free from drivethrurpg.
Pictured- Legio II Augusta
OK, I then decided, despite the fact that my adventure plan was only half baked and wholly stolen from Simon Scarrow, right down to the fact that I put the players in the Legio II Augusta; and I didn't have my battlemat or any of my miniatures that we would start the real campaign, since we had so much time left in the day. I had them go from their camp on the Rhine to a rebellious German village that had mutilated a Roman tax-collector. I departed from Scarrow quite a bit in the size of the town and the forces there, because only four scouts were leading the Century. I issued the scouts horses so they could ride on ahead of the rest of the Century and report back. Big Darryl's character Lucius was in command of the detachment. They got to the edge of the woods and got a look at the village, it was on a hill overlooking the Rhine to the east with gates to the north and south and a wooden palisade around the rest of the village. Both gates were open, but guarded by a pair of young Spearmen each.
Lucius considered a stealthy approach, but the daylight and couple of hundred yards of cleared fields around the village made him decide to have the men ride together to hailing distance and be the voice of Rome come seeking retribution for their wronged official. I reasoned that these German boys, being from a hostile village, probably weren't Latin speakers to any degree; so one of them ran inside and started calling for their leader and the other stood there and spit on the ground when Roma got mentioned one too many times. Darryl Jr.'s character Gaius Marcellus Cicero, the poor Hispanian farmer with the fancy name, decided that this indicated that the tribe was in fact in open revolt against Rome and charged the poor lad.
Lucius fired his bow at the boy and dropped him before Gaius could get to him, but Dalton's war mad Gaul Vergix had backed Gaius and charged too. Lucius ordered Titus to ride back to the Century and tell them what was going on. Gaius and Vergix followed the other boy through the gate at a charge and Vergix ended him and his German caterwauling by shattering his skull with his sword. They stopped short though when they saw a force of Germans assembling in the village center, some armed with javelins and one a fairly richly appointed warrior. Lucius rode up within bow shot, but Gaius took over negotiations. I am guessing that after two easy kills and seeing only thirteen other warriors, half of whom were unarmored Spearmen, he figured this would be an easy fight and he did mention wanting a chance to loot this village some before the rest of the Century got there. This was well within character because he had a starving family back home in Hispania. He goaded the richly appointed warrior into saying that it was German land and he was the King there, so then he was legally in open revolt against Rome.
The German King issued a challenge for personal combat to Gaius and stepped forward, but Gaius decided that fighting fair was for suckers and charged him on horseback, Vergix and Lucius followed his lead and attacked too, Vergix with a charge into the unprepared German Spearmen and Lucius firing an arrow into the mass of Germans. I don't remember all of the details of the fighting, it was fast and furious, I think Gaius took down the King with a tremendous blow to the head that left him unconscious, then I know he died the next round when he was struck by two javelins thrown from the back rank of Germans. Titus decided to turn around when he reached the edge of the woods and saw that his friends were inside the German town and heard the sounds of battle. Vergix danced his horse around and kept the Germans engaged on the street while Lucius and, eventually, Titus shot them up with arrows; not that he wasn't an effective killer too. His might of 6 while mounted was a huge advantage and his Assault Trooper armor kept him virtually unwounded, a couple of nicks made it through is all.
Pictured-Germanic Tribesmen, probably the very boxed set I would have used for this game.
Eventually a German made it past Vergix though and charged the Archers, and while both archers concentrated fire on him for two rounds, his helmet and shield saved him from death. He then managed to deal a serious leg wound to Lucius, then Lucius cut him open pretty bad and ordered a retreat from the village. The Germans initially charged the retreating horsemen, but after a round of getting peppered by arrows realized they could never catch them and ran back towards their village, the Romans charged them and finished them off just inside the gate.
Now, what I liked about this skirmish: It was pretty fast, despite the fact that we had never tried archery and we were all new to the system, so it's only going to get quicker. I just have to figure out how to remember my total "add" to my 2d6 roll, and to roll for armor every time an NPC gets hit, also that they have Fate too. The King could have spent 2 Fate points to "shrug off" the knock out effect of his head wound and stay in the battle, and another 1 to "shrug off" the incapacitation, then he'd have just been down 10 Hits, a bad wound, but he'd have still been in the game and their best fighter. I also liked that most of the downed enemy weren't dead, merely incapacitated or unconscious or both, that's far more realistic than D&D's flood of corpses. A lot of these Germans could survive, they're in their own village with their own women and healers to tend them, now that the three surviving Romans are firmly in charge they don't want them dead. They are probably going to crucify the King, but they're waiting for the Centurion for that decision.
What I didn't like: Arrows. Holy crap are they deadly. This seems anachronistic to the setting really. One arrow every round is a pretty good rate of fire, and you are going to run out pretty quick, since you only get twelve shots a piece, but Slingers were more common as Auxiliary troops than Archers, so I just assumed that the bows of the era weren't as good or something; but these guys were pin-cushioning my poor bloody Germans; and the rule about fighting with an arrow stuck in you means that if you stop to pull the arrow out, you cause a further 2 Hits on yourself, but if you don't you suffer a combat penalty equal to the damage that the arrow caused 1d6+2. So if you are hit by an arrow and pull it out so you can keep fighting, you suffer a minimum of 5 Hits and a maximum of 10 Hits, given that I was using an average guy template based on the Legionary Character Creation Example - Tiberius - for the bulk of my Germans, since I hadn't printed out the NPC portion of the book and Dalton didn't bring his laptop, that guy has 12 Hits. The Archers kept rolling 5s and 6s for damage, when you drop to 3 Hits (or less) you are incapacitated, dead at 0 Hits, I had a bunch of battle mad Germans take themselves out of the fight trying to pull arrows, it was either that or fight at -7 or worse, which is a real killer. This may just be sour grapes on my part though, I don't know.
What the players and the characters don't know yet: They failed a fate check on the road and missed a blocking force waiting to ambush their main column, also there is a reserve force of allied Germans moving in from the north. I did this so I could stress test the battle rules that came in the Warband supplement, but we had to leave because Ashli needed her medication. That's the real reason there were so few men in the village.
Pros about the game- Doesn't need miniatures, simple and fast paced. Could be played as a miniature skirmish game, if you were so inclined.
Cons about the game- Some poor editing, and a few unclear spots in the rules require interpretation.